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When we think about caring for our elderly parents our first thoughts are of all we are giving to our parent. We want them to acknowledge the time, effort, and sacrifice we put into their care.
It becomes very disheartening when rather than acknowledgment we receive hurtful and sometimes accusatory questions. It’s only when we consider their loss that we are able to answer the difficult questions asked by our elderly parent without taking it personally.
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No one wants to get to a point in their life that they need to be cared for again. There are so many emotional losses that come from needing a caregiver.
- A sense of purpose
While your elderly parent may know why they need a caregiver, it doesn’t make accepting your help any easier.
Imagine living a life not so different than yours – career, marriage, children, travel, home, joys, sorrows – when, whether slowly over time or suddenly because of tragedy, you lose everything that defines you as a functioning adult.
Obviously, you are going to have some questions. While these questions are hard for us to hear and even harder to answer, it is important that we try.
Five Difficult Questions Asked By Elderly Parents
1. Why are you here?
This is by far the question I get asked most frequently by my MIL. Most often this question is asked in anger. No one wants to need a caregiver and there are times when my MIL needs me more than others. There are times when, for her health and safety, I have to force her to accept my help or follow certain “house rules”. It’s then that her question, while directed at me, is more about “why is this happening to me?,” rather than anger at me as her caregiver.
2. Where are my things?
My MIL has not really worn makeup since I got married in 2010. Recently though, she’s been obsessing over where her makeup has gone to the point that I’ve been accused of taking it. For these kinds of questions:
- Keep something you know will appease on hand. For the makeup, a little moisturizer, blush, and lip gloss make her feel better.
- If it’s something you know you don’t have or can’t recognize by the description, simply tell them you don’t know or will see what you can do to find it.
- If it’s something like money/credit cards/checkbook try enlisting someone who is willing to talk with them about it. For my MIL, her daughter takes care of her finances. Anytime my MIL gets antsy about money I get her daughter on the phone.
3. When am I going home? or Where is home? or Who’s home is this?
We live in a home my MIL’s parents built. She’s very familiar with this space, yet she still asks these questions. Most often she is looking for validation that she belongs somewhere. Home is a safe space where you are loved, welcomed, and desired. When you’ve experienced so much personal loss, you are waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you. They need the assurance that they are safe and belong.
4. Why are you making these decisions for me?
There have been times when my MIL wants to know why she’s no longer making a particular decision and even why I’m now making them. This is usually because she wants to feel she still has some purpose or say in her life. Sometimes, as caregivers we get caught up in our daily responsibilities that we forget the human life we’re responsible for. Asking why I’m making all her decisions is my MIL’s way of reminding me that she still wants to be needed and have her opinion heard.
5. Why can’t I insert freedom (drive, live alone, etc.) here?
This one is both the easiest and hardest to answer. It’s easy to say you can’t drive because the doctor says it’s not safe. That’s not necessarily what they’re asking though. Most often when my MIL asks why she doesn’t do something anymore whether it’s cook or drive or live alone:
- I gauge her cognitive ability in that moment to comprehend the truth. Sometimes she can handle her diagnosis and sometimes it brings greater confusion. If in doubt a simple, “You’re sick and your illness doesn’t allow you to xyz,” is sufficient.
- I remind her that her care is my privilege and that I want to make sure she doesn’t even have to do those menial life tasks anymore.
Related Post: Establishing Your Role As Caregiver
Tactics for Answering the Hard Questions Your Elderly Parent Asks
With every answer I give, I use the same five tactics to help me find the right words to let my MIL know that I hear her concern and her emotions are valid, but this is the life we live at this point.
1. Assign blame to a professional.
My first tactic in answering this question is to say, “Your doctor says you need someone to stay with you,” or “It’s the law that I stay with you so nothing happens to you.” Both of these statements are true but it helps her to know that someone of greater authority has “ordered” me to be there for her safety and well-being.
2. Appeal to their desire to keep their family safe.
When my MIL doesn’t accept my answer, I always appeal to her desire to keep her family from any kind of physical, emotional, or financial struggle. This helps:
- Provide perspective and remind her of the importance she places on family.
- Reminds her that she still has an important familial role to fill.
3. Offer an alternative.
Sometimes, my MIL just wants a little taste of the life she lived and the freedoms she enjoyed before her Dementia made it impossible. It’s in these times that I offer her alternatives, “No, you can’t drive, but I would be happy to take you somewhere.” “No, you don’t have a credit card anymore, but let’s pick out some new books online.” These alternatives remind her that while she has lost certain freedoms, there are ways around them.
4. Include them in decisions.
My MIL enjoys knowing she still has some say in what happens in her life. Offer viable options instead of just asking what they want to do. Instead of informing her she is taking a shower, I’ll ask her if she wants one before or after her lunch. Instead of assuming my MIL wants Taco Bell for lunch while we’re out, I’ll give her a few options. When she’s struggling to pick out an outfit for the day, I’ll help her by offering two or three options. This way, she’s making a guided decision but still feels like her opinion matters.
5. Keep your response simple.
Sometimes the best response I can give is, I don’t know or I’m truly sorry. Often, my MIL isn’t seeking an answer, she just wants me to validate that this isn’t a life anyone would choose and that it, pardon the expression, sucks. These are usually the times when she asks the question in anger. It’s at these points that a simple response, or even just a hug is all the answer she really needs from me.
Related Post: How to Grieve the Still Living
Final thoughts on answering the difficult questions asked by your elderly parent.
One of our most crucial tasks as caregivers is learning to read between the lines. Just like a mother recognizes the different cries of her infant, caregivers must learn the “cries” of their elderly parent.
This means we have to really listen when our elderly parent asks the difficult questions. We must pay attention to:
- Tone of voice. Are they agitated? Angry? Sad? Curious?
- Body Language. Sometimes their body language will tell you more than their words.
- Circumstances. Are they responding to something that just happened? Are they ill or in pain? Is there some sort of external force causing these questions?
If you find things are getting out of hand no matter what you try, put on a TV show, movie, or some music for your elderly parent and walk away. Remember, you are not avoiding the question but rather preventing confrontation.
Related Post:How to Talk to Someone with Dementia
Answering the difficult questions asked by our elderly parents is one of the hardest and quite honestly, most frustrating part of being a caregiver. While we never want to make it our focus, in answering these questions we must always remember that most of them come from a place of loss.
By keeping this in mind, developing an arsenal of tactics, and learning to read between the lines, we can answer the difficult questions our elderly parents ask with understanding, patience, and love.
Did you like this post? How do you answer the difficult questions asked by your elderly parent? Let me know in the comments below.
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