Q. My father, age 88, has periods of confusion. When they oocur my mother gets very angry and critical of him, which makes him all the more confused. While I realize she’s probably acting out of fear and frustration, it is extremely detrimental. How do I address this with her? Amy V., Princeton, NJ.
A. Your parent’s situation is not unusual, unfortunately. Many people express anger at their parent or spouse for behavior that is clearly not in their control. Your insight that your mother is reacting out of fear and frustration is likely correct and it demonstrates your own sensitivity to your mother’s issues as she tries to adjust to her new role as a caregiver to your father.
I spoke with Debra Kimmel, LCSW, a psychologist in Boca Raton, who provided additional insights and suggestions for how to support her.
“Illness always affects an entire family and your mother may need for you to empathize and validate her own stress. It would be helpful to suggest some coping tools she could utilize such as relaxation techniques or breathing slowly to calm down before responding.
“If she wants to protect you from hearing her concerns, She might benefit, too, from expressing her feelings with a professional or a support group of other caretakers who share common issues.”
If your father’s periods of confusion have been going on for a long time, your mother’s impatience with your father may also be a sign of exhaustion or weariness as she takes on more tasks and decision-making.
If you can, try spending more time with her to show your concern for her needs as well as those of your father. A regular lunch date would offer opportunities for heart-to-heart talks. Participating together in something she enjoys, say gardening, a book group or just shopping are other ways to have fun together. Alternatively, spending additional time with your father would give her more time to see friends so she would feel less isolated during this difficult time.
If you have siblings, it’s important to include them in a plan that offers relief to your mother in any manner that is helpful to her.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@ senioritymatters.com.