My father in law gets verbally abusive to his caregiver wife at times. He swears, complains unreasonably, whines. It really hurts her feelings, and she feels helpless. He is 83 yr old, suffering from heart failure, and quite weak and helpless.
It is understandable that the feelings of your father-in-law's wife are hurt. However, it might be helpful if she tries to interpret his behavior differently. Although it must not be easy to receive verbal abuse from her own spouse, the fact that she is feeling hurt and helpless may suggest that she is taking his actions personally rather than seeing them as a symptom of his dementia and/or any other illnesses, and perhaps a general feeling of vulnerability and worry about his health, and not as a motivated attack to hurt or insult her. He may not be able to control his outbursts at this point, but she could attempt to mentally reframe the situation for herself and utilize basic redirection techniques to manage him. If she finds that he is complaining unreasonably and being verbally abusive, she can simply reply to him by validating his concerns and quickly changing the subject onto something more positive. It is usually helpful to find the one thing you know he enjoys and will be happy to engage in at any time. If he loves taking strolls, for example, she can respond with "I understand you are unhappy with the situation and I wouldn't want you to be unhappy. How about we go for a walk in the park and get some fresh air?" At this point, she may find herself more successful as he might be distracted enough to forget about his complaints and transition onto to a more pleasant topic. It is also advisable to discuss this matter with a physician to determine if there are treatments to ameliorate his physical or psychological symptoms of distress. You might also be interested in joining a local support group in your area to connect with other caregivers who are facing similar situations. For support group listings, please contact the AFA at (866) 232-8484.
The answer from AFA is very good. I just want to add that for her sake, if she is really victimized to the point of too much abuse, you may want her to keep some distance for a while. Maybe the children can take care of him for some time. I know some
members here took over as caregivers for the parents when the spouse could not cope anymore. His wife's health is also important. So don't take it without a limit. She needs to draw a line. If he goes physically abusive, she will need to stay away from him. There are many options for caring for your FIL, so please make sure his wife is not abused too much.