Across the board, people aren’t often open or transparent when discussing mental health and behavioral challenges and the strain it can cause on relationships. This can be compacted when it’s an elderly parent who is struggling and the adult child who is in the support role.
Irrationality can come from fear, stubbornness, panic and a number of other emotions. But if it becomes a consistent pattern over time, then there may be other factors at play. Whether it be pre-dementia or any number of other medical or mental health issues, how do we as the adult children manage? How can we help, support and what do we do when it feels impossible?
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4 Ways to Support an Irrational Parent
One of the most challenging parts for those of us who are close to someone who has become consistently irrational (or even stubborn) is that we feel as though we’re banging our head against a brick wall. This calls for a change in strategies, as well as lots of self care for ourselves.
The following ways we can support the one we love may include:
You might be wondering why this is at the top of the list. While all of these tips are important and not in any particular order, taking care of yourself emotionally and physically is a priority. Making sure that you have the emotional support you need, that you’re eating healthy foods and getting enough rest (and exercise) is critical to replenishing the skills you need during this journey.
Even regular communication with someone who is consistently irrational can be exhausting and if you aren’t having your own emotional, physical and mental health needs met, the challenge is harder. It may cause a toll on your own health.
Pick your battles
Regardless of whether you’re “right”, not every battle or argument must be had. If your loved one is presenting irrational behavior over what they want to watch on television, this is not “the hill to die on”.
You may find yourself having to choose which conversations to have and limit yourself to the topics that hold the most importance, such as safety or health issues. Under the cloud of being irrational might just be feeling out of control. When an adult tries to exert their control in a situation where irrationality is present, they are merely trying to assert their own control (often when faced with the lack of control that can be present in aging).
All people in general respond better when they aren’t blasted with someone’s opinions and requests…about everything. Picking your battles and limiting them to the most important ones will be helpful for all involved.
Empathy and understanding motivation
While being in a support role for someone who is exhibiting irrational behavior can feel like an arduous task, one of the skills that will help you most is empathy. Empathy is the understanding the feelings of and putting oneself in someone else’s place.
According to new research at UCL (University College London), “Irrational behavior arises as a consequence of emotional reactions evoked when faced with difficult decisions“. This is an emotionally driven reaction in all of us and is in part, how we’re “built”.
Taking the time to glimpse into what may be causing this through the eyes of empathy is one of the keys to finding the path of least resistance in ‘negotiation’ with your loved one.
Although acceptance may feel like defeat, it isn’t. Accepting that your loved one is making choices you don’t feel are appropriate or wise can make it easier to gain a little emotional space. Competent adults have the right to make decisions, even ones you don’t agree with or ones you may label as “poor”.
There is a peace to coming to understand the wise words of the Serenity Prayer:
- Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed;
- courage to change that which can be changed,
- and wisdom to know the one from the other.
Get support for yourself. Yes, self care is important, but there are times when we’re too deeply inside of a situation to know what to do next. Finding a support group, mentor or church leader for yourself, even if only to have someone to talk to about these challenges is extremely valuable.
Get outside assistance. You may also want to consider bringing in a home health care worker, private duty nurse or other professional to assist with the support and care of your loved one. If you are the sole caregiver in the situation, it may just be too much to bear alone.
Loving and supporting our parents, grandparents or elders can be challenging, especially when we feel that we feel that it’s all on us. If we have help, professional or otherwise, we’ll feel the load is lightened. If you feel that the cause of the irrational behavior may be dementia or Alzheimer’s, or in any way is worrisome or dangerous to themselves or others, speak with the family physician about your concerns.
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Do you have questions about how you can better support your loved one while they age in place in South Florida or regarding homecare in general? Please contact CareGivers of America here: Contact or call us toll free: 800-342-4197
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