Coping with your difficult ageing parent

A very common statement we hear from clients is "they [parent or spouse] are just being so difficult and unreasonable"

I’m reading a book called Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent by Grace Lebow & Barbara Kane [ISBN: 978-0-380-79750-9].

First off, Mom if you happen to have found a way to read my columns on your iPad, I’m not reading this book because of you…

A very common statement we hear from clients (be it the spouse or adult child) is “they [parent or spouse] are just being so difficult and unreasonable” and “nothing I say or do seems to help”.  Spouses or adult children often view themselves as stressed-out, burned-out and as my Mother would say, “at their wit’s end.”

Another common request we receive is asking for a list of recommended reading – books and/or online resources – for families dealing with eldercare issues.

Which brings me to my new idea: providing a book or website review approximately three times a year to better direct readers to resources that are most appropriate for their personal situation.  I don’t believe in rating books and will focus on content, target market, a “thumbs up” (best parts) and “meh” (less useful components) review of the book.

Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent begins by having the reader fill in a questionnaire called the Difficult Parent Questionnaire. The self-directed survey identifies a variety of “problem behaviours” to give readers a starting point in assessing both the level of difficulty and the particular type of challenges they may face.

Seven chapters ensue, each one dealing with an identified problem behaviour including: dependency, the “black and white” parent, narcissistic and controlling behaviours, dealing with addictions and self-destruction and parents with anxiety and other fearful behaviours.

Written by social workers, the book provides a number of case examples of the described behaviours coupled with role-playing scenarios (what not to do followed by a more successful approach). The authors also include key strategies and tips to manage the difficult behaviour.  The last two chapters deal with grief and mourning and how to avoid being difficult yourself.

Who Should Read This Book: While the book clearly targets family members dealing with difficult older loved ones, I think it is important to provide clarification on the term “difficult.”

When the authors describe the behaviour as “difficult,” I feel it truly means at the far end of the spectrum of difficult behaviours. In my opinion and based on the number of cases we’ve dealt with, the case scenarios presented in the book are very extreme.

I also think professionals working with seniors as a service provider would gain valuable knowledge and insight by reading this book.  It provides professionals with scripts and preferred use of language when dealing with clients displaying challenging behaviours.

Thumbs Up

I really liked the case examples in each of the different chapters.  They were easy to identify with and the role-playing activities were helpful in setting up potential successful dialogues one might have with a difficult older loved one. This aspect was by far the strength of the book and most helpful in providing practical and ready to use advice.

Meh

I found the case examples very extreme. In fact, there were few that I could relate to from a professional perspective. The only one I could identify with was the Queen of the Nursing Home (my grandmother in a nutshell) and even this I found a bit condescending towards the difficult person.

I found myself saying, “This sounds a bit too far-fetched.” Perhaps this is more a reflection of my “glass is half full” view of individuals?

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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