New Year, New Approach

Q Over the holidays, I noticed my father-in-law became very impatient and frustrated with my mother-in-law. She gets confused and sometimes repeats herself,and he starts to yell. Is this normal?

A It’s not normal, but it is common. It’s called caregiver burnout and it requires your attention because both of your in-laws are potentially at risk. Your father in-law is risking his own health and well being,while placing your mother-in-law at risk for verbal abuse. Sound alarming? Please read on.

According to the American Geriatrics Society, over 43.5 million Americans are caring for an aged spouse, parent, or both.Taking care of another adult is very taxing and can cause depression, exhaustion and physical pain. The stress of care giving is magnified when the caregiver has other responsibilities, such as work or kids, and when the care recipient develops memory problems in addition to physical needs.

Caring for an adult is different from caring for a child because we have different expectations of adults. When an aging loved one can no longer feed himself or needs help using the toilet, it shifts the relationship dynamics in uncomfortable ways that no one likes to talk about. We
expect to be able to reason with adults when problem-solving, but a person with dementia cannot reason, resulting in frustration and arguments.

What to do?

Talk about it. It’s probably the elephant in the room anyway. Let the caregiver know you are willing to listen to their concerns. Reassure them that no one can do it alone and you are here to help.

Learn more about it. The Alzheimer’s Association has terrific resources for caregivers (, as does AARP and many county senior service offices.

Prevent it by learning to ask for help and care for yourself. – Read our next article about taking care of yourself, whether you are a caregiver or know someone who is. And, as always, call our social workers for a listening ear anytime.

 Sources:  Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout ,
“Caregiving: Recognizing Burnout” at ,

Family Caregiver Alliance 1-(800)-445-8106.