How to Deal With Irrational Elderly Parents – The Caring Generation®

by | | Caregiver Radio Programs Uncommon Wisdom | 0 comments

The Caring Generation® – Episode 74 February 24, 2021. On this program, caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson shares tips for How to Deal with Irrational Elderly Parents. An interview with Dr. Claudia Mills shares insights about care expectations between parents and children. Do parents and children “owe” each other?

To listen to the caregiving podcast, click on the round yellow play button below. To download the show so that you can listen anywhere and share it with family, friends, and groups, click on the button (the fourth black button from the left) below that looks like a down arrow. Click the heart to go to Pamela’s Spreaker podcast page to like and follow the show. You can also add the podcast app to your cellphone on Apple, Google, and other favorite podcast sites.

How to Deal With Irrational Elderly Parents?

0:00:04.0 Announcer: Caregiving can sometimes feel like an impossible struggle. Caregivers may be torn between taking care of loved ones and trying to maintain balance in life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Caring Generation, with host Pamela D. Wilson. Is here to focus on the conversation of caring. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in exactly the right place to share stories and learn tips and resources to help you and your loved ones. So now, please welcome the host of The Caring Generation, Pamela D. Wilson.

Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel

0:00:38:3 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, speaker, elder care consultant, and guardian of The Caring Generation. The Caring Generation focuses on the conversation of caring, giving us permission to talk about aging, the challenges of caregiving, and everything in between. It seems that when the time comes when we need care, or we become a caregiver, our world is turned upside down. There is little dignity, little clarity, and certainly no stability.

0:1:08:60 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s be honest, most of us prefer a life without change. It’s no surprise that needing care or becoming a caregiver changes everything. The Caring Generation is here to guide you along the journey to let you know that you’re not alone. You’re in exactly the right place to share stories learn tips and resources to help you and your loved ones plan for what’s ahead. We’re here to create The Caring Generation.  Please invite your loved ones, family, and friends to listen to the show each week.

0:01:41:83 Pamela D Wilson: On this show, we’re talking about the elephant in the room. Conversations that are difficult to have with loved ones—brothers, sisters, parents, or grandparents who are needing care or assistance.  These conversations include how to deal with irrational elderly parents. I’ll share insights and tips into gaining a perspective about the loss of control that elderly parents experience when health declines that can result in demanding, critical behaviors can make you want to run away.

0:02:20:66 Pamela D Wilson: Plus, I’m sharing an interview from my archives, Dr. Claudia Mills from the University of Colorado at Boulder, discusses ethical caregiving questions. What expectations should exist between parents and children. Do either really “owe” the other anything?  This interview may be the validation you need for setting boundaries with difficult elderly parents. Let’s start with #1 of my 10 Tips for how to deal with irrational elderly parents, which is looking at the motivation behind the behavior.

0:02:57:11 Pamela D Wilson: It can be difficult for adult children who are healthy and busy with their lives to empathize with demanding elderly parents who are stubborn, rude, or who exhibit behaviors viewed as irrational. Responding positively to irrational behaviors is where you may have to dig a little deep to find a comparable situation of fear or loss. Talking to another elderly family member or friend might help you find compassion or empathy for how to deal with irrational elderly parents.

0:03:32:90 Pamela D Wilson: If you are a CNA or professional caregiver you may have a lot of experience in dealing with demanding patients. Even still, that does not mean that your feelings don’t get bruised. It can be challenging to devote time, effort, and emotion to care for a parent or an unappreciative patient or client who can’t return the same level of kindness. Number two for how to deal with irrational elderly parents involves responding to paranoia, delusions, or perseveration.

0:04:07:98 Pamela D Wilson: If your elderly parent is exhibiting any of these behaviors and has NOT recently seen a doctor—it’s time. These behaviors can be signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, mental illness, or another chronic disease that may improve with prescription medication or, if not improve, give you a better understanding of the foundation of the irrational behavior to help you become more compassionate and empathetic.

0:04:38:49 Pamela D Wilson:  If you have demanding elderly parents who refuse to see a doctor, you have a choice to make. You can ignore the behaviors, which I don’t recommend. Especially if your parent has caregivers coming into the home or lives in a care community. You can lose a good caregiver who lacks the experience or training to respond appropriately. A parent who lives in a care community may be asked to leave if the behaviors result in staff threats or harm.

0:05::10:018 Pamela D Wilson: If your parent lives at home and you or your family are the caregivers, an event may happen to make a bad situation worse. You may end up being responsible for fixing a bigger problem. If your parent is paranoid, accuses of you stealing, imagines events, or sees people that are not there, or maybe continually repeats him or herself, you may be at a loss for how to deal with irrational elderly parents.

0:05:42:39 Pamela D Wilson: These behaviors are usually associated with an illness. This means that your parent may not be irrational but may be suffering.  I have helped many families with parents who experienced behaviors and children who thought that parents were purposely forgetting or doing things just to be difficult. See a doctor first to determine the cause and if any type of treatment is available. When you understand the diagnosis, it is easier to learn tips to respond positively to the behaviors.

0:06:17:89 Pamela D Wilson:  This point leads to number three for how to deal with irrational elderly parents who have a health diagnosis resulting in behaviors. I call this one avoiding pointless discussions or arguments that don’t matter or are dead ends. A simple example, your father with dementia calls the watch on his arm a computer or says the sky is purple. Correcting your father may be important to you because you think you can help his memory improve.

0:06:52:42 Pamela D Wilson:  But it may be pointless because dad may not be able to remember your response. Correcting your father may make him feel embarrassed. Is your goal to make your father feel bad about his memory loss? My advice, let those little things go. Eventually, if this isn’t already the case, a parent with dementia will have a one-second recall for information. I know you may think that’s impossible if this isn’t your reality, but it’s true.

0:07:25:47 Pamela D Wilson: Part of how to deal with irrational elderly parents diagnosed with dementia is to be short in your conversations. If you give a lengthy response or instructions that include a 1, 2, and 3, by the time you get to three, your parent has forgotten number one. The advice also applies to how to deal with irrational elderly parents who repeat longstanding issues that may have no solution. You don’t have to agree with a parent. You can say, “I understand how you might feel that way”—even if you don’t understand. Or, “I’ll look into that.” The point is to acknowledge or validate the feelings of demanding elderly parents.

0:08:16:63 Pamela D Wilson: Number four in the list of how to deal with irrational elderly parents is that taking care of elderly parents does not mean that you have to be the fixer of things to create happiness for your parent or happily ever after situations. If you are a caregiver focused on how to deal with irrational elderly parents, ask yourself if you have a fixer mentality? Do you need to rescue or  “save others”—or believe that you know how to solve everyone’s problems? Caregivers can fall into this trap of working hard to help other people at their own expense. Sometimes this is also called being a nurturer. Nurturing and caring for others is a gift, but it can also have a downside.

0:09:42:61 Pamela D Wilson: We’ll talk more about fixing and nurturing after this break, in addition to more tips for how to deal with irrational elderly parents. I’m Pamela D Wilson on the Caring Generation. I help family caregivers and organizations talk about caregiving and understand the decisions related to caring for elderly parents at home or in care homes, working with the healthcare system, and more. Visit my website, PamelaDWilson, where you will find information about how I help caregivers and organizations and you can also listen to all of the episodes of The Caring Generation podcasts. Stay with me; I’ll be right back.


0:10:56:10 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. If you’re seeking support to avoid unexpected caregiving issues, the A to Z of caregiving is in my online caregiver course called Stay at Home: Taking Care of Elderly Parents at Home and Beyond.  More help for caregivers is also in my book, The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes. Information about online courses for elderly  care and my caregiver book are on my website

0:11:26:90 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s continue our conversation about helping parents who we might see as demanding or irrational. We were talking about the differences between trying to fix people—elderly parents and being a healthy nurturer. When we help too much, we can take away opportunities for elderly parents to remain self-sufficient and take away their confidence and self-esteem. When we sway too much to the fixing side we can become dependent on having someone to fix.

0:12:02:14 Pamela D Wilson:  This can happen when the fixer is insecure, and doing something for someone else that a person doesn’t feel he or she can do for themselves that can seem easier than working on ourselves. Instead of fixing others, what if we put an equal amount of energy into our own lives and problems to change things we can change.  Number five for how to deal with irrational elderly parents is to avoid becoming “assisted living” care for aging parents. What do I mean by this?

0:12:38:18 Pamela D Wilson: The first part is to talk early and frequently. Talk about the level of help or involvement you can or are willing to provide. Talk about a caregiving exit plan and set some boundaries.  Some of you may be familiar with assisted living, especially if you are a professional caregiver who works in an assisted living. a care community or care home. Services provided in assisted living communities include things like meals, light housekeeping, help with laundry, medication reminding, occasional transportation. In some situations bathing, dressing, helping with incontinence, and activities and socialization. Although depending on the state of the pandemic, activities, and socialization may be more limited.

0:13:32:95 Pamela D Wilson: How many of you provide help with this list of items for parents who live in their home? If you do—thank you. I hope your parents appreciate your efforts and are not demanding elderly parents who continually expect more of your time and effort. Have you asked yourself, at what point will you stop doing these things and talk to your parents about hiring outside help to do these things? Is this a new idea for you? Are you wondering why I am asking this question?

0:14:07:33 Pamela D Wilson:  It’s because caregiving responsibilities continue to expand like a wet sponge. A dry sponge doesn’t take up much space. It’s pretty light. Put a sponge in water and watch what t happens. The sponge expands. Depending on the size of the sponge, it gets heavy and weighed down by the water. When you become “assisted living” for your elderly parents You begin like a dry sponge and end up like a wet sponge feeling like you’re drowning in responsibilities that keep growing.

0:14:43:62 Pamela D Wilson:  Initially, you’re doing basic things until your parents need more. Instead of saying “time out,” we need to hire help to do these things so I can do things that someone we pay can’t do. You keep adding to your list. You are “training your parents to expect more,” and then all of a sudden you’re angry about wondering how to deal with irrational elderly parents who expect more. Your helpful behavior, duty, dedication, and accepting responsibility after responsibility have resulted in demanding elderly parents who want more of you and more of your time.

0:15:25:27 Pamela D Wilson:  Instead of saying “time out” and asking your family for help, you keep going and hope that someone in your family notices how tired and exhausted you are. Highly unlikely. Family members usually don’t volunteer to help unless you ask and—even then still may not help if you ask. On the idea of how to deal with irrational elderly parents who refuse all help except for you, my recommendation is to start slow and make outside help a requirement. Help can be in the form of a volunteer, friend, another family member, or a paid caregiver.

0:16:04:74 Pamela D Wilson: Start with 4 hours a week and have the helper do chores that don’t require your skills. This little 4 hour a week window can open the door to more time as the list of more things you do continues to grow. And it will. Number 6 for how to deal with irrational elderly parents or demanding elderly parents is the aspect of decision making. Are you feeling frustrated about putting time and effort into caring for elderly parents and being unappreciated? Are there decisions to make about care needs or health care, and you’re having difficulty getting your parents to listen to you.

0:16:45:84  Pamela D Wilson: If so, this is extremely common. Some parents don’t want their children telling them what to do. Even though you are 50, 60, 70 years old—may be even 25, elderly parents may still see you as that defiant 12-year-old child who didn’t listen to them.  Part of how to deal with irrational elderly parents is to use outside proof and expert information for your parents and you. Offering other opinions means using someone like myself who has more than 20 years working with caregiving families.

0:17:23:63 Pamela D Wilson:  I understand the family experiences of caregivers and aging adults and the decisions that have to be made about daily care,  health care, financial costs, legal matters, and more. Caregivers say to me, Pamela, I feel bad because I made a mistake. I should have known that “thing.” Don’t beat yourself up for the things you don’t know. Instead, find a way to learn what you don’t know. Caregivers dealing with demanding elderly parents often feel like they have to be constantly “on.”

0:17:58:71 Pamela D Wilson: Meaning vigilant about waiting for the next thing to happen so that you can respond. I know. I’ve been there myself as a power of attorney and the court-appointed guardian. As a caregiver, you might feel anxious and worried that the situation will worsen if you don’t step in to save the day. In some cases, this may be true, especially if a parent or spouse has dementia. Suppose you establish that caregiving is a 2-way street, meaning you participate and your parent participates.

0:18:33:77 Pamela D Wilson: In that case, the responsibility to do something or decide NOT to do something has consequences you both will want to discuss. Number seven for how to deal with irrational elderly parents is to accept that life situations are constantly changing. While we may have periods of stability in our lives, when health issues, physical difficulties, or mental difficulties occur, these are game-changers. We and our parents or spouses can remain in denial and respond to ongoing emergencies, or we can take a deep breath, sit down and make a plan for how to handle these concerns that may or may not get better.

0:19:18:70 Pamela D Wilson: When you think about caregiving, our bodies are like cars, except that we don’t get to trade in our bodies for a replacement body. We have the body that we create and maintain. When elderly parents begin experiencing health issues, a choice exists. Treat the issue or don’t treat the issue. Which takes us back to decision making and knowing the right questions to ask.

0:19:49:44 Pamela D Wilson:  If your parent agrees to treatment and follows additional doctor’s recommendations, the issue may stabilize to the point that continued declines slow down or are more manageable. If your parent refuses treatment or agrees to treatment but doesn’t follow the doctor’s other recommendations, the condition may continue to worsen and result in more health complications. How to deal with irrational elderly parents involves becoming a part of these conversations with doctors so that options are identified. The consequences of the decisions you make can be more clear.

0:20:32:32 Pamela D Wilson:  One of the most important aspects is confirming that your parent wants the treatment. If you are a caregiver pushing a parent to do something that he or she DOES NOT want—the sand will continue to shift under your feet and result in more constantly changing situations that you are “chasing to solve.”  We will continue this conversation in the last segment of the program. If you are looking for information for yourself or your organization, to have conversations about caregiving and understand the decisions related to caring for elderly parents at home or in care homes, working with the healthcare system, and more visit my website for more information.  I’m Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. Stay with me; we will be right back.


0:21:54:81 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. I am your host on The Caring Generation program for caregivers and aging adults. If you’re looking for help having caregiving conversations in your family, download the Caring Generation show to the cellphone of a parent, brother, sister or other family members. The Caring Generation podcast is on all your favorite apps: Apple, Google, Pandora, I Heart Radio, Spotify, Spreaker, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Podchaser, Jio Saavn, Vurbl, and others. Let me help start caregiving conversations for you.

0:22:35:47 Pamela D Wilson: I want to share an interview with Dr. Claudia Mills, a philosophy professor who is now retired from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is known for her article Duties to Aging Parents and many others that focus on the ethical decisions of choice and consequences

0:22:57:05 Pamela D Wilson: Dr. Claudia Mills, thank you so much for joining us.

0:22:59:93 Dr. Claudia Mills: It’s a pleasure.

0:23:00:93  Pamela D Wilson: Let’s talk about parent-child relationships. You’ve got an article, and it’s called “Duties to Aging Parents.” There’s mention about the fact that children don’t make choices to be born and that parents who choose to spoil or sacrifice for their children make that choice. In your opinion, does that set up a system of imbalance later in life, maybe when parents might expect something back from those children?

0:23:24:81  Dr. Claudia Mills: Let me clarify the view first, just a tiny bit. I think a lot of people have the thought that parents provide for their children and then when the children are grown now it’s their turn to provide for the parents. That they have accepted these benefits as children, and now it’s time for them to return the benefits. And I think that that view is actually quite a problematic one for the reasons you mentioned just now. Because parents are making the choice to have children and to raise children, and to contribute to their children.

0:23:58:42  Dr. Claudia Mills: And the children, particularly for most of their childhood, when they’re very, very young and not even of any kind of age to consent to anything, aren’t in a position to either accept or refuse those benefits. And so then for the parent to turn around and say, I gave you these benefits now what benefits are you going to give me seems unjustified. That said, I think it—sometimes parents have that kind of expectation. But I think it’s a worrisome one. And I think it’s also one that can deform the relationship. If people are sort of doling out benefits too much with an eye toward some possible return.

0:24:35:58 Pamela D Wilson: Well, and I think it sets children up too if there’s multiple children for blaming one for not doing. You know you’re not helping mom and dad when they ask, or if the parents are giving children things. Well, you’re the favorite child.

0:24:48:11 Dr. Claudia Mills: And often, parents will rightly respond to their children in different ways because of children’s special needs. One child might have special needs because of a health issue and need additional financial resources and resources of time. That, I don’t think, necessarily means that that child, then as an adult, would owe more. It’s just part of the accident of fate that that child happened to be sickly during some portion of her childhood.

0:25:15:35 Pamela D Wilson: What about children who expect things from parents when they’re older. Like they either expect their parents to give them money, or they expect to be able to go back and live in that household. At what point should a parent just say no?

0:25:27:92 Dr. Claudia Mills: Well, the view I try to defend in the article that you reference is that in general, I think that once adult parents are dealing with adult children, there should no longer be an expectation of getting things like money, housing, services, etc. from the other person. What you should expect—and I think it’s important to expect and to give to one another is the things that make a relationship itself.

0:25:56:11 Dr. Claudia Mills: The ongoing concern, and caring. Hopefully, love. It’s hard to require love. Because you can’t necessarily command an emotion. But to make good faith efforts to love one another and to spend time and keep your life intermingled. Those things are the important things. I think it’s a problem when either children expect of their parents or parents expect of their children, things that are not really essential to a loving relationship. But are things like money, a job, an apartment, a car that can come to us in many, many ways and often preferably through our own efforts.

0:26:31:68 Pamela D Wilson: Those things you mentioned are things that do contribute to a long-lasting parent-child relationship. Are there any other things that support that besides—you know—money and things?

0:26:40:96 Dr. Claudia Mills: Well, I think sometimes removing the expectation for money, and things can help strengthen the relationship itself. I know one thing that I, I have just dealt with a lot of issues in my own life with aging parents. And it’s made me decide that when I’m an aging parent, I really want to try very hard if I’m financially able—which I hope I am. For example to pay someone to mow my lawn so that when my kids and grandkids come over we can enjoy each other’s company without having a great marathon of chores. You know, saved for them. And I think the more that you can focus on enjoying each other by taking away the expectation of all these other goods and services. I think the stronger the relationship will be.

0:27:24:18 Pamela D Wilson: Well, and that’s such a challenge with caregivers. Because caregivers feel like they have to do everything and that the parents feel like they’re getting free services from their children, so why should they have to pay and that kind of leads into this sense of duty. Let’s say a parent asks a child, you know, can you come over and mow my lawn, get the groceries, get my medications, clean the house. How can a child nicely say no?

0:27:48:32 Dr. Claudia Mills: You know, some of these conversations are going to be frankly very difficult. But I would hope that maybe what the child could say is—“mom, what I really would love to do is come over and just spend some time with you. I’d really rather spend our time together talking or going out and having lunch or taking a drive in the country. So why don’t you let me call a service or services that will provide this other stuff so that you don’t have to worry about that and when I’m spending time with you I don’t have to worry about that either, and we can just enjoy each other.

0:28:19:77 Dr. Claudia Mills: And admittedly, it’s going to be easier said than done. But I think that that’s the way that I would frame it. Is that I would want both of us to be able to focus on each other rather than focusing on some of these other pesky tasks

0:28:34:26 Pamela D Wilson: Tasks or work. In your article, there was a story about a daughter who was caring for her mom to the extent of flossing her teeth when her mom probably didn’t even know who she was. A lot of caregivers find themselves in situations like that, and there’s a lot of guilt. In your opinion, at what point is there an imbalance, or at what point should that caregiver really make a change and have somebody else help?

0:28:56:25 Dr. Claudia Mills: So I think there’s two issues in that story that I mentioned. One is the degree to which you want to continue to invest an enormous amount of energy into a relationship that’s no longer in any meaningful sense a relationship. Where you are interacting with this person, but this person is in no longer in a sense the person that she was or that he was. And so what you are doing, really, truly could be done by anybody.

0:29:23:32 Dr. Claudia Mills: In the sense that the person receiving your love and care has no sense that it’s the love and care of a daughter or a son. It’s just tooth flossing. So, there’s that question. And there’s the question of how much of your own life you’re sacrificing to do it. And I think in a healthy parent-child relationship. The parent wouldn’t want her child to make significant sacrifices of career or marriage or time with her own children simply to provide services that could be provided by somebody else.

0:29:54:85 Pamela D Wilson: In situations where, let’s say where there’s family member, and the relationship really has been task, chore. Not necessarily about the building a relationship. How would somebody kind of transition to change that to more of, you know I want to spend time with you where before it has all been task, task, task.

0:30:13:45 Dr. Claudia Mills: Well, I think certainly the tasks have to be done. And I think getting them done financially can be a hurdle too. So I think it’s wonderful if the grown child can help explore some of the service options, either paid services, and sometimes there’s youth groups at churches or high schools that are providing services like that. You’re just not to leave the parent stranded and say, “sorry, Mom, I’m no longer going to provide these services for you.” But to say, “let’s, frankly, I’m getting frustrated by the situation because I would rather spend time with you in other ways. Let’s explore the options together. “

0:30:49:59 Pamela D Wilson: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

0:30:51:50 Dr. Claudia Mills: Well, I think that I want to add that although I don’t believe that it’s a duty to provide these services for one’s parents, I do think it’s helpful in some ways to think of it as a duty to be in the relationship itself. I know when I was dealing with my aging father-in-law, it was an enormous joy to spend time with him. He was just the most delightful, curmudgeonly, funny character that there could be. But I also had to make a conscious effort to prioritize that relationship in a life that was very busy with other things.

0:31:21:64 Dr. Claudia Mills: And so I decided that I was just going to consider it an obligation to go see grandpa, as my boys and I called him, every Sunday afternoon. And that we would just make Sunday afternoon our time to spend time with grandpa, and we kept it pretty close to sacred as a way of spending time as a family. I know toward the end, sometimes I did run the vacuum, and we did go get groceries. But we also tried to, above all, build those memories that were going to last after he was gone for his grandchildren and for me and just make those last years of his life filled with real genuine warm companionship.

0:31:56:07 Pamela D Wilson: Well, and what a great example you set for your children.

0:31:59:30 Dr. Claudia Mills: Well, I tried to, and it was —it ended up it was one of those things where I did it for my children and for grandpa. But it ended up being the greatest gift to me. I ended up looking so forward to those Sundays where I would sit and have a cup of tea and look out at the bird feeder where grandpa had a flock of birds always visiting and listen to his stories about World War II, stories about raising his boys in the 1950s. And it became this oasis of calm and happiness for me in my week.

0:32:301:66 Dr. Claudia Mills: And I think it was because I really maybe didn’t do so many of those chores when I went down there. But it was a joy for all of us, and if I told my boys, now we’re going to go down to grandpa’s, and we’re going to do these 75 chores, they would have started finding reasons not to do it. And that said, they did mow his lawn. We had a lot of fun buying groceries for him because he always had a very amusing list of eccentric things he wanted us to find. But it was the relationship that was the point of the visits.

0:33:00:37 Pamela D Wilson: That was a wonderful story I thank you so much for joining us today.

0:33:04:47 Dr. Claudia Mills: Well, and thanks for addressing these very, very difficult issues that so many, many families are facing.

0:33:10:31 Pamela D Wilson: I’m Pamela D Wilson on The Caring Generation. If you are a caregiver or aging adult making decisions that relate to aspects of caregiving help is on my website and in my online courses for elderly care called Taking Care of Elderly Parents at Home and How to Get Guardianship of a Parent.  Stay with me I’ll be right back.


0:33:45:05 Pamela D Wilson: This is Pamela D Wilson. You’re with me on The Caring Generation, giving us permission to talk about aging, the challenges of caregiving, and everything in between, including those uncomfortable topics that we would sometimes like to avoid. If talking to your family about caregiving issues is a challenge, listen and share The Caring Generation podcasts on your favorite apps or my website Go to the Media Tab and scroll down to The Caring Generation.

0:35:15:85 Pamela D Wilson: Let’s return to number seven of how to deal with irrational elderly parents. This one is called decision-making and consequences, and it applies to all of us. We make decisions every day. Some decisions are easy because we have made this decision often, and we generally know how it will work out. For example, the decision about how you drive to work, or the store, or to a friend’s home. This is a decision that we make that turns out to be a habit that we don’t have to think about.

0:34:51:83 Pamela D Wilson: How many of you drive somewhere? You get there and you don’t even realize the steps you took because you were singing to a song in the car, or your mind was thinking about something else because this drive is an automatic behavior – it’s something you do frequently. We all have many of these automatic behaviors that we do every day. How do you treat automatic or routine decisions differently from what might be considered a mid-size or a big decision?

0:35:24:01 Pamela D Wilson:  Research by Kahneman and Tversky about preferences for making choices says that in typical decision making, “the threat of a loss has a greater impact on the decision than the possibility of an equivalent gain.” I agree with this in most situations where an individual can be relatively certain about the losses or gains. An example of this would be a work situation where you are responsible for making marketing, sales, or production decisions. There is a track record of successes and situations that didn’t meet your expectations.

0:36:05:55 Pamela D Wilson:   But—what happens when you’re in unfamiliar territory like caregiving where you are making decisions about the care of a parent or a spouse or making medical decisions where you have no track record? Why in these situations do we feel like making decisions where we have no idea what the potential loss might be or where the gain does not appear to be so significant that it seems worth the effort? What are we thinking? How often, when we make decisions, do we make a corresponding list that says “losses or risks” and “potential benefits or gains,” and we associate these with short or long-term consequences?

0:36:57:93 Pamela D Wilson: I think most of us don’t do this all the time. Especially in situations where we have no idea what we’re doing. And we have no prior experience to prove that the choices we are about to make will work out the way we expect. It’s usually not until we’ve made a mistake that underestimates the outcome and we suffer disappointment. Then we think maybe I should have asked someone or did a little more research. Even in the light of disappointment, hope exists if we can look at the experience positively and gain insights about the way that we approached the situation, how we might approach it differently next time, and what we learned from the situation.

0:37:48:19 Pamela D Wilson:  Number eight for how to deal with irrational elderly parents goes to one of my favorites, Albert Einstein, who said something like, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Repetitive or unproductive behaviors are where we—or our elderly parents—sabotage our efforts. We become our own worst enemies. There are hundreds of examples for this one. Here’s one—and I think we’ve all done this. Continuing to date the same type of man or woman who may be a whole lot of fun but who doesn’t really have the characteristics of the person we want to marry.

0:38:36:06 Pamela D Wilson:  Wanting to change a habit. For example, you want to stop drinking, but all of your friends drink. Or you want to start to exercise, but most of your friends are overweight, have physical issues that prevent them being active with you like hiking or riding a bicycle, or they’re simply not Interested. These repetitive situations are difficult because they can be very comfortable for us. Here’s an example of a situation for an elderly parent. Your elderly parent is a fall risk and can’t walk 50 feet without holding onto furniture. Sedentary behavior for your parent is considered normal and acceptable.

0:39:21:94 Pamela D Wilson:  The decision to improve balance and walk independently might be unappealing when mom or dad weigh the effort required which may mean doing things they normally don’t do. Getting up every morning early. Doing strengthening exercises for 30 minutes and then going for a walk. If this is new and unfamiliar territory, and no consequences link to  the effort or lack of effort an elderly parent may find it easy to say, “there is no way I’m doing that.” We can say the same thing. But what if—what if— someone could explain the possible outcome and relate it to the earlier mention of what might be avoided, which is the threat of the loss.

0:40:16:76 Pamela D Wilson:  These are the conversations that I have with caregiving familes, caregiving groups, and caregiving organizations. Here’s a very simple example. “Mom or dad, if you continue to sit in this chair and watch television all day; your ability to get around the house safely could get worse. This could mean using a walker, which I know you already said you don’t want to do. It could also mean falling and breaking a hip or another body part. If you have trouble getting around today because you’re not active, what will your physical ability look like after you fall and have an injury?

0:40:58:62 Pamela D Wilson:  I’m guessing, it will be more difficult. Which means that I won’t be able to help you get around—because I could get hurt or I could hurt you. If you’re injured, it probably means that you’ll have to move into a care home where there are more people around who can help you.” Even with this conversation about self-sabotage meaning we all know what we should do, but we may not believe it to be important enough—even with this conversation, you may not be successful for how to deal with irrational elderly parents.

0:41:37:11 Pamela D Wilson:  At a minimum, you had the conversation so that if something happens, you can talk about the choice your parent made and the consequences that now require different decisions for care. Number nine for how to deal with irrational elderly parents is unrealistic thinking. This one is hearing a person say, “that is never going to happen to me.” In some cases, this statement can be true. For example, I don’t want to have children—that’s never going to happen to me. We all have a choice whether to have children or not.

0:42:10:51 Pamela D Wilson:  But saying, “I’m  never going to get old and need help.” That may be wishful thinking or may be a parent not being ready to have that conversation.  How to deal with irrational elderly parents can involve having conversations that ask direct questions. “Mom or dad, so that I know, do you really believe that, or is this an uncomfortable subject for you?” If we’re all honest—caregiving or needing care may not be a subject that we feel comfortable discussing, especially if we don’t know what might happen.

0:42:48:03 Pamela D Wilson:  Number ten for how to deal with irrational elderly parents is being able to accept the statement from a parent,  “When it happens. I’ll deal with it then.” As a caregiver, this statement can make you cringe. It can make you feel like a hostage waiting for your parent to decide what happens next through his or her behaviors or decisions. Feeling captive or trapped by others’ decisions or lack of decisions is a choice that we make for ourselves. Uncertainty is an area where caregivers can choose to set boundaries and discuss preferences.

0:43:28:90 Pamela D Wilson:  If you listened to the interview with Dr. Claudia Mills, she gave examples of stating preferences. “Mom or dad, instead of being the person who does chores for you, I’d rather spend time with you. I’m hearing that you don’t want to address your health issues or take medications or see the doctor. Those choices are up to you. I feel that being proactive to avoid issues is a better way to look at this situation. Thinking ahead is an area where I can help you today to avoid issues that might become time intensive in the future.

0:44:04:96 Pamela D Wilson:  After something happens, the situation may be more complicated and more time-consuming. Mom, dad, I would recommend researching to understand your options to be prepared to make decisions and choices when the time comes.” As caregivers, all of the items in dealing with the irrational elderly parents apply to us. While our focus may be on helping an elderly parent or a spouse, if we fail to make the connection between the life and experiences of the persons for whom we care, we are squandering an opportunity to learn how we might make our lives different as we age and as we need help or care from others.

0:44:56:03 Pamela D Wilson:  Thank you for joining me to talk about the decisions and information you need to know about caregiving, health, and everything in between. Detailed support and information are in my two online courses Taking Care of Elderly Parents at Home, which also applies to taking care of a spouse and yourself, and the second course How to Get Guardianship of a Parent.  Please share The Caring Generation and my website with your family and workplace so that we can make caregiving something we talk about.

0::45:28:13 Pamela D Wilson:  The podcasts of all the shows are on your favorite podcast apps and my website at  Invite your family and friends to listen each week. This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, and speaker. I look forward to being with you again soon. God bless you all. Sleep well tonight. Have a fabulous day tomorrow and a great week until we are together again.

0:45:52:06 Announcer: Tune in each week for The Caring Generation with host Pamela D. Wilson. Come join the conversation and see how Pamela can provide solutions and peace of mind for everyone here on Pamela D. Wilson’s The Caring Generation.


Looking For Answers to Common Caregiving Questions? Listen to More of The Caring Generation Podcasts on Your Favorite Apps

©2021 Pamela D. Wilson All Rights Reserved


About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

Pin It on Pinterest