My mother, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, lives in another state and I am here in Georgia. I have hired caretakers for her for several hours during the weekdays to help her run errands, make meals and do other tasks that she is no longer able to complete on her own. On the weekends another family member checks on her. She is cordial to the caregivers but every time I speak with her, she laments and fumes about how she doesn’t need the help. I have explained to her that she isn’t able to do things on her own anymore, but I don’t seem to be getting through to her.
Dear Frustrated Daughter,
If it makes you feel any better, this is a very common experience. It is probable that there are a couple of reasons your mother doesn’t think that she needs any assistance from caretakers: 1) She honestly does not know that she can’t do the things she used to be able to do and 2) Even if she has an inkling of her changing abilities, she doesn’t want to lose her independence. She is likely in a very frightening place – maybe aware that something is a little “off” but not sure what it is, struggling to do things that used to be very easy for her, and fighting to maintain dignity and independence. And why is it that you are the lucky family member who gets to field all of the complaints? Well, you’re very likely someone that she feels close to and safe around – safe enough to know that if she tells you what she really thinks, that it will be okay.
So what to do? First I would recommend that you listen. Listen to her frustrations and validate those for her. You might try something like “Mom, I hear how upset you are about having caretakers in your home and I’m so sorry that you’re upset.” Let her express her feelings and let her know that you really hear her without trying to argue or provide reason for your own position. That can be the hardest part, but it is one of the most important things you can do. Validating her feelings and then saying “but, you have to have care because…” negates what you just did to help her feel heard.
If your mother does demand an explanation for why the caregivers are needed, you may consider explaining that you worry about her because she is so far away. That these caretakers give you piece of mind since you cannot be there to check on her yourself. Be willing to be the bad guy and take the blame. It’s probably going to be much easier for her to accept that you are the reason she needs caretakers rather than because she is incapable of doing things on her own.
Finally, be ready to redirect. After you have listened, validated and taken the blame (if needed), redirect her towards an activity or topic that she enjoys. This will take a little detective work on your part and you may want to make a list of her favorite things so that you have many ideas ready to try. The redirection is important because it gives some closure to the conversation and allows for a follow-up experience that is positive. Maybe this means going for a walk, going shopping, talking about a happy memory or helping her make her favorite tea. There are likely many things that can help create a positive transition away from the conversation at hand.
In closing, these recommendations are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution, but instead a good starting place. Remember that the person you are caring for is a unique individual and the more you know about them and are able to empathize with how they’re feeling, the better equipped you’ll be as a caregiver. Also remember that you can call our helpline 24/7 if you need to speak to a counselor for any reason! 800-272-3900