How to Cope with Caregiving Resistance

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When you become a caregiver for your parent how do you expect them to respond to you?  

  • Acceptance that they need help that you’re ready, willing and able to provide?
  • Compliance toward your now reversed roles?
  • Happiness that they have you in their time of need?  
  • Gratitude for the sacrifices and adjustments to your own life?  

Unfortunately, this isn’t always what you receive. The changes our parent goes through when they move into our homes are confusing and difficult for them to accept. Though we as the caregiver know our intentions are pure and our actions for the well-being of our much-loved aging parent, we are often met with anger and caregiving resistance.

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Why Your Elderly Parent Resists Your Care

Imagine for a moment, after so many years of independence you suddenly must rely on someone else for even the most basic need. Not only that, but that person on whom you are so reliant is your own child. The same person who not so many years ago was completely dependent on YOU is now making decisions, responsible for your care and well-being, and telling you what needs to be done and how to do it.

Do not despair, my dear fellow caregiver! There are ways to neutralize a resistant situation. If you put these ideas into practice and make them your habit, you will begin to see the anger diminish, acceptance of the situation by your loved one, and the contentment you hope for as you both begin coping with caregiving resistance.

Remember, this is not about you.

When I give my MIL her pills or remind her of an appointment, I often get a sarcastic, “Well, thank you so much!” in reply. It took me a long time to realize she was being sharp toned not out of ingratitude but out of the frustration that she now needed someone to take care of these things for her.

Related Post: How to Handle Elderly Bad Behavior

When your good deeds are met with anger, it is important to determine:

  • If a response is even needed.
  • That the response is in kindness and not as a rebuttal.

Think about all the difficulty you (or your spouse) gave them as a teenager when you would lash out trying to hold on to what little independence you had and recognize they are more angry about the situation than they are with you.

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Avoid the temptation to defend yourself.

When situations get tense, my MIL asks me, “Why do you hate me?”

This is usually after I’ve told her she can’t do something like drive a car or watch “Law and Order” in the family room with my young children.

When we first moved in and were establishing our family unit, I was very hurt by her question. Of course I didn’t hate her! Why would I do this if I hated her?

My response was harsh. I was angry that she would even suggest such a thing. Both of us would say hurtful things and she walked away with more confidence that she was right, I did hate her.

After a while, I realized she asked me this because she wants a better excuse to be angry with me. She understands the basics of my reasoning behind why she can’t do something but that understanding doesn’t diminish her desire to do what she wants. 

If I respond in kindness and understanding or even silence she is given no more reason to be angry with me and must make a choice to move on.

Coping with Caregiving Resistance

Change your strategy.

While our initial response to this resistance is anger (however justified) we must quickly learn to change our reaction and develop a strategy. Anger will only intensify their resistance.

Try to recognize the reason your parent is acting out. Rarely are they resisting out of sheer obstinance. It takes some time and patience, but you can usually read between the lines and tackle the root of the problem rather than reacting to their resistance.

Is she afraid?

My MIL has several fears.

  • She is afraid of falling so she doesn’t like to go outside especially when we’re in a hurry to go somewhere.
  • She has a fear of showering so she resists bathing. 
  • She is afraid of being alone so she frequently shadows me.

While these fears are (mostly) irrational, they are very real to her. I do my best to be clear, simple, and understanding. Speaking with confidence and authority often provides her with a sense of security. Explain what you are about to do and check back frequently.

Is she distracted?

As we get older we lose our ability to multi-task, only able to focus on one thing at a time. I can’t ask my MIL to get dressed if she’s watching TV.

First, I have to remove the distraction and then work on accomplishing the task.

Similarly, if I give her too many instructions or steps at the same time, she’s only going to recall the last one or two. As frustrating as it is, I have to wait until she completes a step before moving on to the next one.

Does she understand what I am asking?

There are some times that my MIL is just not able to comprehend what I’m asking, even if it seems simple to me.

In these cases, I try to determine if the task might really be too difficult for her. If it involves several steps, she becomes lost in the details. Maybe I just need to re-word the question for better understanding. Keep it simple and straightforward as if giving instructions to your young children.

Related Post: How to Recognize When Your Parent is Having A Bad Day

Revisit the task later.

There have been times when a simple request has led to extreme agitation. Usually these outbursts are because of some sort of embarrassment or agitation at needing my help at all.

Every morning before breakfast, I ask my MIL to change her incontinence briefs. Usually she is accommodating but some mornings are more difficult than others.

One particular morning I asked her to change. It was quite obvious to me that a change was necessary. She was holding them up as she walked and I could smell urine on her clothes.

Rather than recognize her own discomfort, she immediately lashed out at me, “They are completely dry! I know when to change.  I’m pulling them up because they’re too big. I was potty trained as a child. I wish you would stop telling me to change my pants!”

Other than my skeptical look, I didn’t respond to the outburst but instead suggested she start making her coffee.

After it had brewed, I again suggested she go change her underwear and nightgown while I poured her cream and made her some breakfast. She did so without complaint, completely forgetting the conversation a few moments before.

Offer a distraction or incentive.

If it is a task that you frequently experience resistance with, try offering a distraction or incentive to complete the task.

My MIL hates showering but for her own health reasons I insist she shower twice a week. So, right before lunch I get out clean clothes, turn on the water in the shower, and say, “Why don’t you take a shower while I get your lunch.”

And with the promise of lunch, she takes her shower and puts on clean clothes.

  • For doctor’s appointments, I’ll promise a special treat afterward – ice cream, new book, or a special lunch.
  • When I cut her fingernails, I turn on the TV.
  • If she asks for dinner at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I give her a small snack and suggest she read a book on the sofa.

Find your parent’s happy place and use it when you face resistance.

Related Post: Why Caring for Aging Parents is Easier with Kids

I know what you’re thinking, “I can’t bribe my parent into doing something.” But think about it for a minute.

While we don’t bribe our children because we don’t want them to think they will get a reward for simple obedience, your parent is not going to learn any new character trait or positive habit from you at this point.

Using what makes them happy to diffuse a difficult situation keeps them from the humiliation of being bullied or forced to do something they don’t want to do.

Their Anger is Not About You

So much has changed for both you and your parent. Your roles can seem shaky and undefined. In some ways, your parent still views you as the child, the dependent, and this can often cause resistance. Your requests, assistance, and input in their lives can seem heavy handed and even disrespectful to them.

Take heart though, it’s not about you!

They are reacting to the situation, not to you. If your responses are calm and level headed, without anger or malice, you will be able to find a place of compromise and balance.

Did you like this post? How do you cope with caregiving resistance? Let me know in the comments below!

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