The Emotional Burden of Caring for an Elderly Loved One


It’s the favorite word of toddlers and the favorite word of most seniors who need regular care. And that – as much as anything – is one of the significant flashpoints between caregivers and care recipients. Too many people see superficial similarities between the behavior of a child and an older adult, and instinctively start treating the adult as a child. But there are few things on this earth which will infuriate an adult more than being talked to like a child, mainly when the person talking down to you IS your child. When caring for a senior, it is paramount to take pains not to infantilize, regardless of the situation. Don’t suddenly speak slowly and in small words, or use obvious euphemisms rather than proper terminology. Yes, you will have to make verbal accommodations for people undergoing a cognitive decline, but you must choose your battles in those circumstances. The easiest way is to imagine someone whose diapers you changed talking to you in how you’re about to speak.

There will be anger, and tears.

Another hard truth for caregivers to accept: a person’s emotional states change as they age. Things that were minor annoyances when middle-aged could trigger major emotional outbursts as they get older and begin to suffer from dementia. You, as the caregiver, need to know these outbursts are possibilities and plan for them. As I said: there will be tears and anger, and maybe some hurtful words. You have to learn to let them pass, even when it’s complicated. Those words don’t come from a place of truth, but a place of hurt & confusion. If you prepare yourself, you can let them slide off you, and continue to help them when needed.

Find the fun things in life.

Life as a dementia sufferer is not easy, and sometimes as a caregiver it falls on you to shine some light into their dark room. Find simple things that can help give your loved one some joy: their favorite foods, the music of their youth, hobbies & activities, regular calls from the grandkids. They don’t have to be expensive, grand gestures. Just the act of reaching out may be enough to brighten their day and take some of the pressure off.

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