A reader recently wrote to me: “I am an extremely active senior who has been happily married to a charming guy for nearly 50 years. He has slowed down quite a bit for such ordinary tasks as getting out of a car or going downstairs. I find myself getting impatient as I try to make conversation or loiter looking in windows when I am walking with him.”
This reader is certainly not alone. It’s normal to feel frustrated with a loved one’s deteriorating abilities. But such impatience has unpleasant consequences for both parties involved. Patients risk becoming more agitated about their own failing condition. They worry about becoming a burden. Caregivers feel as if they’re failing in their duties.
The key is to understand impatience and keep it at bay. Here’s how:
▪ Recognize the signs. Impatience is a mild form of anger and is manifested by such behaviors as hurrying, making mean, peevish remarks and feeling resentful. It can also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as clenching your hands or teeth, shortness of breath or brusque, jerky movements.
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▪ Pinpoint the triggers. Notice what sets you off. Is it your wife’s repeated questions? Your husband’s refusal to take his medications? Naming the specific irritants helps you focus your efforts.
▪ Accept your situation. This is your new normal. Your elderly loved one probably isn’t going to improve.
In fact, the condition will most likely get worse. Embracing both the diagnosis and stage of life helps minimize the inner conflict that you feel.
▪ Tune in to your thoughts. Impatient messages blame the patient: “He can walk faster.” “She drives me crazy.” “She never was there for me. I can’t believe I have to do this now.” They automatically put you on edge. Replace them with soothing, neutral words: “He’s doing the best he can.” “This is my current stage of life.” You’ll instantly feel calmer.
▪ Take a deep breath. Long, slow exhalations immediately lower your stress levels. Use them often when you feel your blood pressure rising.
▪ Relax your hands. We naturally clench our fists when we’re agitated. Simply loosening your fingers and dangling your hands at your sides works wonders on your mood. Add a few shoulder shrugs and you’ve given yourself a micro spa treatment.
▪ Recall happier moments. Your life together hasn’t always been this frustrating. There were plenty of good times that you shared. Think of them often. Reminisce with your loved one.
▪ Pare down your schedule. You may be irritated because you’re trying to do too much. Remember, this situation isn’t going to get better. Readjust your expectations and commitments. Let go of anything that interferes with a calm, stable mood.
▪ Allow ample time to achieve tasks. Be realistic about how long things take. Then, pad those amounts to allow for inevitable mishaps.
▪ Have fun together. Caring for your loved one is not all work. Find things the two of you can enjoy, such as taking a drive, playing games or caring for a pet.
▪ Take frequent breaks. It’s imperative that you have ample time to recharge your batteries. Exercise. Spend time with friends. Get respite care if your loved one can’t be left alone. You’ll return fresh and ready to tackle your important job.
Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to The Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.