Mom lashing out at loved ones who care for her
Published 5:27 pm, Monday, September 23, 2013
Q: My mom, who is now 85 years old, is becoming impossible to deal with. She has always been a stern, rigid person with a negative way of looking at things. Now. after my dad has passed away, she is beyond what even a very patient person would be able to endure.
She needs mine and my brother's help with groceries and cooking. We also clean her apartment and my cousin does the laundry. My mom is never happy. She is complaining about everything and everyone. She does not appreciate what we do for her. She just criticizes us all the time. I seem to be getting most of her anger. This is getting to the point where no one wants to be around her any longer than necessary.
I personally worry that she may be getting depressed. Her mind is sharp, but her temper is difficult to endure. We all believe that she is very lonely. Is there a way to help her? What should we do?
A: First of all, your mom is blessed to have you all as help. You are truly the reason she can stay home, and I only wish that all seniors had that much support from their families. Although you do not often get praised for what you are trying to do, I want to be the person to thank you and your family.
Now let's talk about your mom. It is not easy to be 85 these days. As you described, she is alone. Her husband of many years is no longer with her. This is scary and truly depressing. Every day is a challenge. Even the simplest task may be beyond her grasp.
Many people at this age are having trouble with hearing and vision. Many have serious arthritis limiting mobility and dexterity, so using tools and even doing simple kitchen chores seems to be a torture.
Many seniors do not admit to their families that they are in pain most of the day, because they think this is a normal part of aging. There may be problems with other issues. Problems with sleep, bowels, and ill-fitting false teeth are just a few.
Our seniors are a proud group. It is not easy for them to accept help. They grew up during the Great Depression. They learned to be self-sufficient and make do under extreme circumstance. They do not want to owe anyone anything.
Paradoxically, seniors may see aging as a sign of weakness. The media is full of advertisements and programs that treat aging almost like a horrible disease. We do not embrace and celebrate aging in our country. We pretend it does not exist and we try to cheat it.
Today's technology can also be scary and intimidating. Everyone these days has a gadget or two. Your mom may be feeling as though she does not fit in.
I suspect that, deep inside, your mom may be full of guilt and shame. She really did not sign up for this. Her new dependence and loneliness are fueling her difficult behavior.
There is yet another interesting phenomenon we geriatric doctors observe. Quite often, the most loving family members get the most of the grief and abuse. We believe that this is because seniors may feel that the daughter or the sons are "safe" people to complain to.
They realize that you will always love them, and never leave or abandon them. Unlike strangers or distant cousins, you are their rock you will be there -- you can take it. This sounds truly bizarre, but the person who absorbs the most of the negativity may be the most trusted one. In a sense it is the most ultimate expression of love and trust.
How can we help your family cope with your mom's difficult behavior? It is clear you all love her. Otherwise, you wouldn't be there. I would like you to do something quite unorthodox. Try to see your mom as a survivor and a person who successfully got herself to this age. Not only did she endure, she also brought up a great, loving family. She must have done something right.
I would encourage you to celebrate this with your mom. I would also hope that you can take advantage of her experience to ask for her advice and to listen to her opinions. Many seniors tell me they do not believe that their wisdom is valued by anyone anymore.
One of the biggest blessings of my specialty is the privilege of constantly learning from my patients and their experiences. It has truly made me into not a only better doctor, but also a better person, parent and a child to my mom and dad.
I also want to make you aware that the negative behavior your mom exhibits is not personal. This is her coping with every day. She has perfected this behavior for many, many years and it probably will not be possible to change it now.
The family may have to insulate from the behavior by understanding its purpose. It is not there to hurt you. It is there for your mom to get through to the end of each day. Responding with love and optimism and dividing time between few people may be the only way for you to conquer this difficult situation.
Please celebrate any moment when your mom's attitude is positive. Embrace it like a gift. You probably will not be able to change her drastically into a more optimistic person.
When it comes to you being worried about depression, you may be right. Diagnosing depression will probably be relatively easy and can be done by your mom's primary care doctor.
Accepting treatment is another idea altogether. Many seniors are petrified when it comes to any new medication. Nevertheless, you definitely should try to talk with her and her doctor about it. Her doctor may have better chance to convince her to try it than anyone else. Best of luck.