Seven Things You Can Do to Get Your Elderly Parents to Stop Complaining

Do you dread getting on the phone with your elderly parents? Is every visit filled with complaints? Are you left feeling you can do nothing right? Today, our experts will share common complaints from elderly parents and the underlying emotions. Understanding what’s behind the complaints will reveal solutions. We’ll address seven key complaints. And, we’ll offer ideas, resources, and options.

“You’re always in a rush.”

Other related complaints you might hear include: “I never see the grandkids anymore.” Or, “Why don’t you have time for me?”

This and other complaints may have their roots in loneliness. About half of seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis. Have your elderly parents cut down on favorite activities? They may be bored and isolated, which leads to them focusing on you.

On the other hand, they might feel rushed during the time you do have together. Maybe rightly so. You likely have a lot of tasks and competing demands. You’re just trying to be helpful and get things done for them. But, it’s easy to become a taskmaster and lose the normal parent-child relationship.

Resources

  • A senior companion/concierge service can help Mom or Dad continue their favorite activities. Our companions have great success engaging elders and offering them a new lease on life.
  • Give yourselves the gift of quality time. Enlist someone to handle certain tasks so you can set aside “us time”. You could hire a care manager to attend doctor’s appointments or organize paperwork, a gardener/lawn service, or a caregiver to do light housekeeping or grocery shopping. There may be community services, friends or family members who can help out too.
  • Schedule a regular time together. This might be a weekly dinner or outing. If you live far away, plan to Skype/Facetime once a week to catch up. Put it on your calendar and theirs. Set aside focused time. This may help to cut down on phone calls when you’re distracted by a million things.
  • Check out two great books on this topic, with ideas for handling these conversations. How to Say it to Seniors by David Solie and Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders by Mary Pipher

“You never help me.”

Some elderly parents don’t say this directly but have a lot of complaints about things that need to be done. Or, the conversational tone will always be “woe is me” or martyrdom. They might complain about how tired they are or list all their tasks. Other parents pointedly talk about all the marvelous things that their neighbor’s son does for him.

Help for you both

In reality, you probably do a lot for them. And, you’re probably stretched thin with all your roles. It’s not a cop-out to hire someone to help. You don’t want your elderly parents hurting themselves doing things they shouldn’t. But, the reality is you can’t do it all either….and still be the son/daughter.

Pick out a few key tasks and bring in some help. Explain your boundaries and ask them to give it a try. Enlist help from a sibling or professional if you get resistance. Alternatively, get them to try it for a project or short-term need. You can’t control how they behave, but you’re in control of your boundaries and how you react. However, because we have a long, often complicated, history with our parents this can be tough. If you’re struggling, consider talking this through with a professional.

“You just want to put me in a home.”

This is often accompanied by complaints about other people’s kids or today’s society. “How awful, they just dump their elderly relatives in a home.” They may tell you horror stories of someone’s facility experiences.

Realistic reassurances

Don’t promise something specific that might not be realistic. For example, don’t say “I will NEVER let you go to a facility.” Instead, reassure them that this isn’t your intention and suggest meeting with a professional to make a plan.

You can actually turn this complaint into an opportunity! Get a geriatric care management assessment to make an “aging in place plan”. The care manager will assess the home for possible safety issues. She will suggest resources. (Check out our aging-in-place checklist for some recommended resources.) The plan will prioritize what needs to be done now along with future planning. Clients and families both find this process hugely reassuring.

“You’re always nagging me. Stop telling me what to do. I’m not your child.”

Every nice chat turns into a fight. You’re just trying to tell Mom what she needs to do to stay healthy. A genuine concern about Dad’s safety makes him feel like he’s being disrespected. The dynamics of eldercare can be quite complicated. After all, these are your parents, not your children.

It’s all in the approach

Get some advice on how to approach the situation. You might just do a phone consult with a care manager to start. Or, you might want the reassurances of that comprehensive assessment.

Here’s a small snippet of one family’s success story getting “unstuck” with the help of a care manager:

Julie (care manager) was especially helpful as we all flew in for a “loving intervention”. If it were not for Julie’s one-on-one time with our mother, and the wise counsel and respect she gave to her, I am convinced we would still be stuck…and sick with worry. Instead, Julie empowered Mom to face the next chapter of her life. She also coached us on how to have a loving intervention…

“I’m completely trapped now that I can’t drive.”

Driving was the main lunchtime topic on a recent visit to my grandfather. He willingly, though reluctantly, gave up driving. His memory is a little muddy as to how that came about at times, but he never forgets the loss. Fortunately, the family made an action plan before even approaching the driving conversation. He has a driver all lined up to help with trips that aren’t included at his retirement community. He set aside the funds from selling his car to pay for this.

Drive to thrive

If your parent is reliant on you or friends for rides, they will complain. Wouldn’t you? Furthermore, the results may be worse if they don’t complain about it but simply withdraw from activities. A lot of unhappiness and complaining may stem from being lonely and depressed. Make sure to set up a realistic plan so they can thrive without driving. This may include some combination of senior transportation services and a private driver.

Ride services provide a lot of freedom, especially for on-demand rides. Until recently, that required having a smartphone and navigating an app. Not all elderly parents want to (or can) do that. Now, you can request Uber and Lyft from a computer. Or even better, EasyLiving with Lyft Concierge can handle it all for you, with just a phone call!

“Your sister…”

Does Dad constantly talk about what a disappointment your brother is? Or, does Mom pit you against (or compare you to) your siblings? On the other hand, you may find yourself in an ongoing battle with your siblings. Perhaps you aren’t on the same page regarding what Mom and Dad need. Or, one of you lives nearby and the other far away. The caregiving situation may seem unbalanced.

Family mediation

It may be time to get someone to intervene. A good resource to get started is this article our care management team wrote about dealing with family conflict in eldercare. If you’d like to chat with a professional, set up an appointment online or give us a call at 727-447-5845.

“I’m tired of eating TV dinners.”

A lot goes into meal preparation. This can get tough as someone gets older. It’s also difficult cooking for one. Plus, elderly parents’ appetites and nutritional needs often change. And on top of all this, most people don’t like eating alone. All this adds up to many seniors eating TV dinners or subsisting solely on snacks and sweets.

Solutions

  • Use a grocery delivery service like Shipt to deliver fresh foods. Eliminate the hassle of shopping. The more healthy foods in the house, the less likely they’ll turn to canned goods and frozen meals.
  • Hire a meal prep caregiver to come in four hours/week. She can do some light housekeeping and prepare healthy meals for the week.
  • Plan a Sunday lunch together. Enjoy a weekly meal where you prepare some of Mom or Dad’s favorites. Stash some leftovers for them to eat throughout the week, or provide some extra meals they can reheat. More than the food itself, the focused time together matters (see #1).
  • If you live far away or sense your elderly parents hate eating alone, consider hiring someone for both meal prep and companionship. If you already have a caregiver involved, take this into consideration in scheduling. Sometimes we think of tasks Mom needs to be done, but forget about this key ingredient. Why not have the caregiver come around lunch or dinner so they can also provide mealtime companionship?

Check out more ideas, including meal delivery services, in our post How To Help Dad with Better Nutrition: Three Delicious Ways.

Have a parent who you just can’t get to stop complaining?

Feel like you’ve tried it all? Do they rebuff all your ideas? Talk over your frustrations. Get targeted advice from our experts.