Communication Tips: Reasoning with Your Loved One
In the days I spent caring for my aging parents, I learned a number of techniques that I used to communicate and encourage cooperation when my mother and father were in challenging moods. Here are my suggestions to you as you deal with your loved one:
Emotional Shifting and Distraction
There were times when my once-adoring father would get so nasty, screaming and yelling profanities at me, and I’d sob my heart out thinking I’d lost his love forever. He’d yell, “You’ve never done anything for me. All you want is my money”
Finally I realized that I simply needed to take an emotional shift and refuse to let his comments bother me. I developed a “shield” that his insults bounced off of, and I learned to calmly distract and redirect him to something, anything else he was interested in — just to get his mind off his broken-record tirade.
I’d say, “I’m sorry you’re upset. Say, did you hear they’re going to go to the moon again! Let’s turn on the news-there’s going to be a big report about it.” Or, “We got a letter from Aunt Rose today-wait until you hear what’s happening with her!” Or, “Oh my gosh, the laundry is dry already-here, help me fold and put it away before it wrinkles.” Or, “It’s going to be your anniversary soon — how did you meet Mom again?”
There were other times when I just couldn’t get my father to cooperate. When my father refused to take a shower and screamed in my face, “I just took one yesterday!” (but it had been a week) — there was no way to convince him otherwise. Instead of arguing and trying to reason with him, I simply agreed and offered a reward.
“Really? It seems longer. I was hoping you’d do me a big favor and take a shower anyway, as I want the Day Care staff to know I am taking good care of you at home and making sure you are clean. They might not let you come back if you aren’t. Tell you what — if you take a nice warm shower I’ll serve your favorite dessert tonight!”
I’d make the bathroom like a steam room, heat up his seat in the shower and put the towels and his robe in the dryer so they’d be nice and warm for him when he got out. He’d grumble and swear a blue streak at me, but then he’d finally go in and take his shower. Afterwards, I’d overboard reward him with hugs and kisses of thanks and serve him his favorite dessert-vanilla ice cream on anything!
Then one day my mother and I were having a meaningful conversation and I was so happy she was so lucid, when suddenly she burst into tears and cried, “My father killed my mother!”
“What? Nooo, Grandpa died when I was a baby — I never even met him. Grammy lived to be 97 and took care of herself nearly to the end of her life. She was a Daughter of the American Revolution and a Suffragette when she was young — she was a too tough of a cookie to let that happen. He didn’t kill her, Mom — I’m sure he’s in heaven with Grammy.”
“Well, he most certainly is not — he is in HELL!”
She was so angry and adamant that instead of arguing, I started asking her questions about her childhood, six sisters, and living out on the old homestead near Billings, Montana. Since her long-term memory was still quite good, she related numerous stories about her abusive father and about how much she had hated him. She went on and on, but after she got it all out, she was suddenly much calmer. Many professionals believe that this process may help someone with dementia release pent-up anger and bring some degree of closure to unresolved issues of a lifetime.
Accepting the Aging Process
I cried often that first year, watching my parents’ decline — until I realized that every generation since the beginning of time has had to go through the heartache of losing loved ones who came before. I was not unique and ohhh, yes, it was simply my turn. I finally accepted the situation and resolved to make the best of a very tough time for my parents — as well as for myself.
I finally had everything managed perfectly, but a few years later my parents passed, still in their own home with fulltime care just a few months apart. I am proud to say I gave them the best end-of-life I possibly could — but you can’t imagine what I’d give now to hear their stories again.
- Don’t argue the facts — validate feelings, agree, live in the reality of their moment.
- Don’t use logic or reason — find a diversion, a distraction, focus on something they like.
- Don’t try to force — suggest and offer rewards.
- Don’t command — ask for their help.
- Don’t say, “remember” — reminisce about the old days.
- Don’t say, “I told you!” — repeat the answer a few times, then turn it around and ask the question.
- Don’t let hurtful comments upset you — calmly change the subject.
- Don’t be condescending — encourage and praise.
- Don’t be negative — be positive and reassure them of your love, continued support and their safety.
- Don’t focus on the decline — live in the moment, savor the time and the life that is still there.
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You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.
Jacqueline wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Alzheimer’s Disease.