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Sticks and stones may break my bones


"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Remember that one? It was a fun little ditty we would spout on the playground when a classmate called us "four eyes", "dunder head", or "cry baby". A juvenile coping mechanism, for sure, but one I thought I could leave behind when the days of recess so thoughtlessly left me behind.

Boy was I wrong.

I never expected that Grandma, a woman I loved and respected so much, would become the target of my schoolyard chant. After all, she was the one who taught me that quippy backlash to fend off the mean kids. She was there to tell me how wonderful I was, how beautiful I looked, and that if anyone couldn't see that, they were plumb blind.

Then something changed. First it was gradual—Grandma would make the occasional comment about an outfit I was wearing—wondering if that was the "new style these days". But over the years, her words became more hurtful.

It seemed that my once fail-proof defense (while only muttered under my breath or said like a mantra in my head) was useless against her sharp stings. I had to find a new way to shield myself.

I stopped smiling at the digs—all the while hiding my hurt, and I started responding.

When she said, "You really fill out those pants, don't you," I was quick to respond. "I decided there are too many skinny people, so I'm going for voluptuous."

"Why is your hair so short? Your husband can't possibly like it that way," she quipped. "I guess it's a good thing we go to different stylists then, huh?"

Thankfully, Grandma's comments were just part of the onset of mild dementia. I know many people are caregivers for elderly loved ones who are difficult, abusive, or downright mean. This type of behavior can't be laughed off or wiped away with a schoolyard chant, so we have some tips to help.

Ultimately, your health, both mental and physical, has to be a priority. If you have a caustic relationship with the loved one you care for, you need to find ways to cope and possibly even change that relationship. Constant negativity—whether it's your loved one's remarks or your own internal dialogue—will do nothing more than result in you being burnt out.

Do you care for a difficult loved one? How have you made it better?

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. November 10, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Posted by Karrie

    I care for my Mother with Alzheimer's, when something is said that is hurtful, nasty or rude, at first I ignored. Then as our time together increased from living in my home, time changes your response. I then began saying "I don't think that is a very nice thing to say" and changed the subject or re-directed. She then is able to rethink what she said right then. Because of the changing of her mind they RARELY get re-said.


  2. October 14, 2011 at 9:44 am | Posted by Judy

    I too, have experienced this negativity, from an elderly family member. And I too, have learned a coping mechanism, subtle and always polite, but definitely a conversation changer !! It is the "you hit me, I'll hit you back" response, but much milder and takes some thought to understand. When I use this mechanism while working with an Alzheimer's or other dementia client, the mood is lightened, and we begin again.


    • October 14, 2011 at 10:51 am | Posted by Cat Koehler

      Very true, Judy! Changing the mood to one that is lighter can certainly get things back on the right track!


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