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Dealing with a "Cranky" Loved One: 10 Tips for Caregivers

By: Austin Malloy on December 11th, 2014

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Dealing with a "Cranky" Loved One: 10 Tips for Caregivers

assisted living  |  caregiver tips  |  60-day stay trial  |  caregiver stress  |  Aging & Caregiving

shutterstock_133217675Relationships between parents and their kids aren’t always blissful, and this doesn’t necessarily change as we grow older.

Whether your relationship has always involved conflict or your loved one has just gotten crankier in old age, caregiving can be a stressful experience.

Here are ten tips to help you rise to the challenge of caring for a difficult parent.

1. Be Prepared

No one should jump into the role of full-time caregiver without ample consideration -- particularly if your relationship with your aging loved one has historically been rocky. Before making the commitment to caregiving, consider what is involved as well as what changes you may need to make to manage this demanding new role.

2. Support Matters

Absorbing the full burden of caring for a cranky, mean or insulting loved one can be overwhelming. Call on family and friends to help distribute both the labor and the interactions. Also check with your local hospital, church or community center about support services or caregiver support groups designed to offer a safe environment to share your experiences with others. You may even want to consider the support a senior living community can offer your loved one, which could help alleviate the burden of full-time caregiving.

3. Talk the Talk

Prompt attention can defuse a situation before it escalates. Try to determine whether there’s a specific reason for the crankiness. The more you understand how your loved one is feeling, the better you can offer a compassionate response. If the behavior continues, initiate a discussion.

Try putting yourself in his/her shoes, and be sure to listen to and respect what your loved one tells you. Remember that with the aging process comes a host of challenges: a loss of independence, physical limitations, feelings of loneliness, and more. Being sensitive to this reality is crucial. 

4. Look for the Good

You may be in the trenches now, but you and your parent have shared a lifetime together. When times get tough, try to focus on the good qualities of your relationship and the happy memories you have shared.

5. Change the Dynamics

It’s easy to fall into patterns of negative interactions. Identify stressful situations and arrange a change of scenery or new activity. A nature walk, lunch outing or tangible project can help channel negative emotions into positive ones.

6. Help from the Experts

While crankiness can be a state of being, it can also have underlying causes. If your aging loved one is habitually grumpy, there may be an underlying physical or cognitive condition. Consult with his/her physician to determine whether depression or dementia may be a contributing factor. 

7. Know Yourself

At the end of the day, you’re not going to be able to change your parent’s behavior. However, you can manage your own reactions. Identify any triggers and try not to take poor behavior personally; instead, determine a consistent and even response, such as ignoring a rude comment or changing the subject. If you’re holding onto resentment, anger, guilt or fear, a counselor can help you work through these emotions and move forward.

8. Limits Matter

Boundaries are essential in any caregiving situation, but they’re particularly critical when it comes to challenging relationships. The clearer you are about what you are willing to accept, the less vulnerable you are to manipulative behavior. If bad behaviors don’t improve, it may be time to consider alternatives, such as enlisting additional help or contributing in a way that doesn’t require daily interactions.

9. Make Time for You

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again: taking time for yourself is essential when you are a caregiver. Exercise, spending time outdoors, and meditation can help you reduce stress and maintain balance. If a friend or family member can't cover for you, check with your local agency on aging for information on respite care services.

10. Manage Your Expectations

Reasonable expectations are key: the truth is that your relationship may never be the one you pictured. But while caregiving may not be what you expected, your relationship can grow and heal with effort and acceptance.

Key Takeaways

  • Being a caregiver is never easy, but can be even more challenging if you’re aging loved one is difficult.
  • Understanding the responsibilities of caregiving, as well as assessing your relationship and history, can help you best prepare for this new role.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help -- family members, friends and community resources can provide essential relief.
  • No caregiver deserves to be abused: if your parent’s behavior is abusive, consider other options, such as changing the nature of your role, considering a senior living community, or hiring a home care agency.

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