Question: I am trying to help my mom, who is 86. She has lots of mood swings. She insults me and tries to make me feel as if she doesn't need my help. What do you think?
Dr. Amy: Mood swings can be a sign of early dementia or a mental health issue. Has your mom always experienced mood swings? If this is a new behavior, I suggest your mother get thoroughly assessed by a medical doctor.
If your mom does not have dementia or some other medical condition that is causing for her mood swings, it might be time to step back and have a conversation with her about what’s going on.
I encourage you, before you begin, to take time to get in touch emotionally with what it might be like for her to be on the receiving end of care. It can be very challenging to be a caregiver. At the same time, it’s not easy to accept the fact that we need care. Your mom may be feeling a fair bit of sadness or anxiety about losing her independence. This in turn can show up as irritability or crankiness.
You might open the conversation by saying that it must be hard not being able to do things for herself. Listen sympathetically. Let her know that your goal is to do everything you can to help her live independently for as long as possible. You might also remind her that she took care of you when you were younger and that you are grateful now to have the opportunity to repay her for everything she has given you.
Discuss how and when your mom would like you to offer help and when she would prefer to do things for herself. Talk about how you would like to speak to each other. Tell her how you would like to remember this period of your life. Share your feelings about how it feels to be treated with respect. Try to avoid saying anything that could make your mom feel defensive. By the end of the conversation, the goal is for the two of you to feel that you are a team.
Helping your mother to get in touch with the emotions that lie beneath the rudeness that’s on the surface may bring you both relief. It’s possible that one conversation may bring about a noticeable change. It is also possible that there might be some backsliding. Be prepared for this. Gently remind your mom about the talk you had, and try not to react emotionally. Good luck.
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