When an elderly loved one chronically complains about everyone and everything, and you have already been sympathetic, offered solutions and tried to change the subject yet the moaning persists, realize you may have inadvertently created your own monster.
By not setting limits on this behavior a long time ago, you have taught your elder that they can get a “pay off” in attention when they grumble on and on. They have learned that they can get what they want by complaining.
When you are ready to tackle changing this ingrained negative behavior, try this approach–the next time a barrage of negativity starts, calmly say you will be happy to listen to all their complaints for a specific amount of time, say fifteen minutes. Offer sympathy and solutions, but at the exact end of the time, declare “complaint time” over and divert their attention to a more pleasant topic or activity. Sometimes they’ll get the hint.
If the groaning gradually comes back, be pleasant but firm as you give warning number one that you aren’t going to listen to any more negativity and that you will have to leave if it doesn’t stop. If it gradually persists again, be pleasant as you calmly give warning number two.
When the negativity starts up again, calmly get up and say you will be happy to return when they can be more pleasant–then calmly walk away. Yes, you may have to repeat this cycle numerous times during several episodes until the habit finally stops. Being 100% consistent and doing what you say you will do is they key to this technique’s effectiveness.
If the complaints are often about your elder’s real or imagined symptoms, you might try a simple test to see if they may be just for your attention. The next time the complaining starts about some minor ache or pain, give sympathy and then quickly offer a non-descript vitamin pill, pretending it’s an over-the-counter pain killer you use. If the mysterious pain goes away, don’t say their pains are not real, but privately let the doctor know what you discovered. You may also want to inquire about having your elder evaluated for depression–as the right anti-depressant may also stop the complaining
Be sure to sit down with your loved one prior to all doctor appointments to write down all symptoms in order of most bothersome. Then at the doctor’s, notice which symptoms your elder actually complains about. As the doctor addresses each issue, take notes or better yet record the session, and cross off each item. If your loved one is too embarrassed to complain to the doctor, take charge and make sure all symptoms are discussed, including: sleep, appetite, energy changes, memory problems, alterations in mood, inability to do basic things, incontinence, depression, anxiety and anger. Be careful about talking about your elder as if they aren’t sitting right there–and be sure to speak with the doctor in private when necessary.
And since drugs have side effects and can interact with each other and produce further complications, always bring all medications (including over-the-counter vitamins, etc.) to doctor appointments to be checked. When a new medicine is prescribed, ask if specific foods and alcohol should be avoided. Should this drug be taken with or without food? Should this drug be taken at a certain time of day? Is it all right to continue normal activities, such as driving?
If you have any suspicions that your loved one is not taking their medications appropriately, get a lock box immediately. This is especially important if there is ANY dementia, because with short-term memory loss, they may completely forget they took their pills already and take a double or triple dose in the middle of the night. Be sure to hide a spare key to the box in the house in case you forget or lose your key, or if someone else has to go to your loved one’s home to give them their medications.
You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book here.