Caregiver Tips: "The Grumpy Old Man"

Check out this clip from Seinfeld, in which Jerry finds himself confronted with a “grumpy old man” as his client when he volunteers with a senior program.

Unfortunately you may sometimes find yourself caring for such a “grumpy old man” (or woman) as a client or relative. This is the care recipient who is often angry or upset: you can’t do anything right, he or she might lash out at you, constantly complain and even falsely accuse you of something. Every suggestion you make is turned down and the client may complain about you to others or be sarcastic or mean in direct conversation. Some care recipients even lash out physically or become extremely paranoid when dementia or other issues are at hand. Here is our caregiver advice for dealing gracefully with the “grumpy” care recipient:

  1. Use redirection and deflection techniques. If the client is angry about something, don’t ignore his/her feelings, but it may be helpful to redirect the conversation or activity to something more positive.
  2. Get to know the activities that the client enjoys or finds soothing. For example, maybe there is a TV show or type of movie that makes the client laugh, or he calms down when listening to his favorite music. Exercise produces healthy endorphins, which are known to help with mood so a regular walk or other exercise can be an important tool for mood and well-being.
  3. Monitor and modify your own reactions. It’s easy to get stressed in situations dealing with a challenging client or loved one. It seems especially hard with loved ones, because you bring your history to the situation and it may be hard to separate behavior related to a disease like dementia from the person you know. Take a moment to catch your breath before you walk in to greet the person. Try to leave other life stresses behind, as your attitude will affect the care recipient’s. You may need to take a break occasionally, whether just taking a few minutes to walk outside or having respite care so you can have some extended/regular time away. Humor can be a good coping mechanism and stress reliever for the caregiver (and might help the care recipient too).
  4. Know when to take things with “a grain of salt”. In the example of Jerry Seinfeld’s client, the client accuses the caregiver of stealing and Jerry himself gets in to a bit of trouble when he takes some old albums that the client says are trash. This is not to say you should dismiss a loved one’s story of abuse or mistreatment any time. At EasyLiving, we take any client or family claim very seriously and fully investigate. However, if you become aware that your loved one is having memory issues or paranoia, be cautious with accusations. It is important to investigate fully before damaging someone’s reputation or becoming angry about what might have happened. This can occur between siblings too. Often the sibling who lives close by or has the most contact becomes the object of paranoia for the person with dementia. Before you assume your sibling is stealing from Mom, check in to things carefully and use a measured approach.
  5. As a caregiver, learn from Jerry’s experience and take a very straightforward approach with issues like gifts. This is why we have a strict “no gifts” policy for EasyLiving’s caregivers. If an older client wants to give something away or your loved one is making such decisions, it is probably best to consult with everyone involved beforehand so accusations don’t arise later. It is good to document any concerns or complaints the care recipient makes, talk to other family members about what is going on, or even bring in a third party to mediate or monitor the situation.
  6. Is there something more going on? Depression in the elderly often presents with symptoms such as agitation, restlessness and cognitive issues. You may think the person is just irritable when they are really depressed and could benefit from treatment. People with Alzheimer’s disease may experience behavioral symptoms such as agitation, paranoia, and even hallucinations and delusions. Talk about these issues with a geriatric psychiatrist or neurologist to find out what can be done. It is also important to explore possible sources of discomfort for your care recipient. Her irritation may be a sign of a urinary tract infection or his anger may be the first sign he is not feeling well or has pain.
  7. Safety always comes first. A caregiver should not be put in harm’s way while providing care so it is important to address real dangers, such as clients who lash out physically. At EasyLiving, we also remind our caregivers and clients/families that we support our employees and will not tolerate them being abused or mistreated. For some reason, there are occasionally family members who do not respect the work of a professional caregiver and treat caregivers less than humanely. Our first priority is always creating a supportive environment for our caregivers to do the best job, so we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

What are your best tips for dealing with a care recipient who is less than pleasant? Come on over to our EasyLiving Facebook community to leave your tips and comments!

Contact EasyLiving’s Senior Care Consultant at 727-447-5845 if we can help with any of your caregiving needs or questions!