Is Your Aging Loved One a Scrooge? How to Deal with a Senior's Bad Behavior
For most people, the winter holidays are happy days. For some seniors, however, this festive time of year brings out their inner Scrooges. For not only your aging loved one but for caretakers and family members as well, this can be a very challenging time. The good news is that you don’t have to hunker down and wait for the holiday blues to pass. Read on for six steps caregivers can take to cope with a senior’s bad behavior while reacquainting themselves with the spirit of the season. Then, make sure to access our free bundle of resources aimed at providing even more holiday help for caregivers.
1. Be Patient
If your aging loved is being difficult around the holidays, there’s probably a reason behind the behavior. In many cases, sadness -- not anger -- is to blame. Many seniors feel a sense of loss during the holidays for missing loved ones and former ways of life. No amount of twinkle lights or Christmas carols can transform this grief into gaiety.
While caregivers can’t change the situation or how their aging loved ones feels about it, they can offer something else: empathy. The understanding, patience and support of family members and friends go a long way for a hurting senior.
LEARN MORE: about supporting aging loved ones during the holidays and throughout the year, be sure to download our free holiday bundle of comprehensive resources for caregivers.
2. Reminisce Together
For some aging loved ones, talking about happier holidays can help them reconnect with the meaning of the season. Invite your aging loved one to share their favorite memories from the past, and in return share your memories with them as well. Looking through an old photo album, watching family videos, and unpacking an ornament collection together are wonderful ways to get the conversation flowing. This exchange can not only reverse a senior’s bad behavior, but also bring your closer together. Even cooking together can turn into a bonding experience while giving seniors a delicious meal to look forward to.
Keep in mind that while reminiscing may be joyful for some, it can amplify feelings of loss or sadness for others. If you notice your aging loved one becoming overwhelmed, redirect the conversation to something else. Regardless, the best gift you can offer a senior during the holidays is quality time together.
3. Maintain Open Lines of Communication
We may all want the holidays to be shiny and bright, but the truth is that many people are suffering in silence this time of the year. For some seniors, just talking about their feelings can lighten their loads. For others, there may be a specific cause for holiday-related malaise or frustration, including everything from mobility to money, that may be harder to address. By regularly checking in with your aging loved one, you can better understand these problem and devise coping strategies.
Listening to what your aging loved one has to say is imperative to making progress in dealing with your senior’s bad behavior. Talking about our feelings isn’t always easy, but a sympathetic ear can make all the difference in the life of a senior who is suffering during the holidays. Whether you’re looking to become a better listener or for help with another common caregiver issue, check out our free holiday bundle of comprehensive content for caregivers.
Also, keep in mind that your aging loved one’s “bad mood” may also indicate a more serious issue. According to the CDC, as many as 13.5 percent of seniors may suffer from major depression, and the holidays can cause symptoms to worsen. And while frequently-cited quotes about suicide rates during the holidays have been debunked by the CDC, depression should never be viewed as a normal part of the aging process.
Symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, and irritability; decreased interest in formerly pleasurable activities and hobbies; difficulty concentrating; and low energy or fatigue. If you do notice these or any other lingering signs of sadness or anxiety, check in with your aging loved one’s healthcare provider.
The good news? While caring for a loved one with depression is not easy, the majority of people improve with treatment so next year’s holidays may well be brighter.
4. Avoid Getting Frustrated or Angry
Your aging loved one isn’t saying “bah humbug” because he wants to. In fact, he can’t necessarily control his bad behavior anymore than you can when you’re sad or in a bad mood. Getting angry or urging seniors to just “snap out of it,” is neither helpful nor productive. As with most things in life, the best way past these feelings is through them. Empathy from caregivers beats anger every time. Another proven technique for brightening a bad mood? Physical activity. Rather than getting angry, get your aging loved one up and moving.
Engaging seniors in holiday-related activities is another way to redirect them -- and yourself! -- from feelings of sadness, anger or resentment.
5. Make Time for Yourself
Seniors aren’t the only ones faced with feelings of ambivalence or anger during the holidays. Caregivers often experience amplified stress during the season of giving which can wreak havoc on their emotions and mental health. Unfortunately, this stress can quickly drain caregivers and give them no time for rest or recovery.
If you’re like millions of other caregivers, you may be so busy taking care of everyone else, that you forget to take care of yourself. Whether you take time out to read a book, head to the gym for a yoga class, or have coffee with an empathetic friend, scheduling even a few minutes off for yourself can help you rediscover the joy in the holiday season while simultaneously safeguarding your own mental wellness.
One last thing to keep in mind on this subject? Managing your own expectations is a huge piece of the puzzle. The work of a caregiver is hard, and much of it is often out of your control. Letting go of unrealistic ideas about “perfect holidays” and accepting that you’re doing the best that you can has huge returns in the form of your own health and happiness.
An added benefit? Seniors pick up on your emotions, so keeping your stress in check can help them relax, too.
6. Enlist the Aid of a Professional Caregiver
Of course, taking time off is easier said than done for many caregivers. If you don’t have a support network of friends and family members who can step in so you can take a break, a professional caregiver can offer vital backup.
Even long-distance caregivers can benefit from professional help. If you’re far away from your aging loved one during the holiday and worried about loneliness or isolation, a professional caregiver can offer invaluable companion services across everything from holiday shopping to attending social events. (You may also discover that a senior’s bad behavior is reserved for you -- not an uncommon phenomenon as many people take out their sadness and anger on the people they love the most.) Wondering where to find a professional caregiving service? Check in with your aging loved one’s healthcare provider or contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
The holidays are also a good time for local and long-distance caregivers alike to evaluate the changing care needs of their aging loved ones, as well as to address any physical or cognitive changes which have occurred over the past year.
Christmas may be the “best time of the year” for many people, but for seniors they can be far less merry and bright. These six tips can help caregivers cope with cranky seniors without losing sight of the meaning of the holidays for themselves.
Also, for more great content on all things caregivers, be sure to download our free holiday bundle of caregiver resources.
About Chelsea Sayegh
I started working as a Marketing Coordinator for United Methodist Homes in October of 2016. I work on public relations, website management and community planning for their award winning independent and assisted living communities. As a graduate of Ursinus College with a degree in Media and Communications and a passion for serving nonprofits, United Methodist Homes has become my home away from home. I spend my days working in a community filled with smiling faces, helpful hands and wonderful residents. I have a passion for assisting seniors and take great pride in being able to promote a company with such a positive mission and values. As an individual committed to learning and growing, I have jumped right into this exciting career!
Our Blog is a 2016 Platinum Generations Award Winner! The Generations Award is an annual international competition for excellence in senior marketing recognizing professionals who have communicated to the 50+ Mature Markets.