Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Care Partner Wednesday--Micro-managing

There's a lot of fear involved in aging.

I hear the fear of Alzheimer's every day.

I searched the house for my reading glasses and found them on my head. 
I've lost my keys three times this week. 
I knew that person so well, but do you think I could remember her name?

Then there is the classic, I went into the room to get something, and can't remember what it was. I swear I've done that one since I was twenty. Every time something like this occurs, a little voice says, "Uh-oh. It might be a sign--"

Then there are all the signs your body sends that you aren't as young as you once were. You can't do the things you used to, or if you try, parts of you hurt that never hurt before. Even when you are sitting doing nothing, or trying to sleep, things hurt.

As people age, systems start to break down. They don't see or hear as well as they used to, and let's not even mention bladder control. The doctor gives you a diagnosis that is going to be with you for the rest of your life, and before you have a chance to absorb the implications of it, something else in your body is affected by that diagnosis. Soon, you have two, then three or more diagnoses. Taking medications becomes a part of your daily regime.

As a person ages, all these changes affect lifestyle. People can't live alone, need care, lose their independence.

I've seen all kinds of responses to the loss of independence and the shrinking of a person's world, but one of the most frustrating reactions is what I call micro-managing. It can take the form of obsessing over the smallest health issues such as a tiny scratch, a corn, an itch. I can't control the big things, so I will obsess about the small ones. Another micro-managing response is to become engrossed in possessions. For some people who gave up a house full of treasures, their small room full of treasures becomes incredibly important. Others focus on demand after demand, and it seems impossible to keep them happy.

I need to say, not every elderly person has this response. In fact, it's not the norm. But for the care partner of a loved one who is micro-managing, it's exhausting and frustrating.

What's the answer? The bad news is, there's no magic solution that works all the time with everyone--like so many issues care partners face. But here are a few suggestions:

1. Set a time limit. After ten minutes, or whatever your sanity limit is, say, "Okay Mom, I've listened to everything that is wrong. Now I want to hear about what it right. Let's count blessings together." With some people, this doesn't work and shouldn't be tried, but some will stop short and turn the conversation around. It's worth a try.

2. Distraction. I've observed that micro-managing is worse in people who don't leave their room. This becomes more difficult if they refuse to do so, but sometimes, with the right incentive, they will do so. "Let's go out for ice cream." or "I want to show you this flower in the garden that is blooming today." are possible incentives. For those who do mingle with others, encouraging an activity that takes their mind of themselves is a temporary fix.

3. Huge distraction. If you're feeling desperate to break the micro-managing cycle, even for a while, babies and cuddly animals work with most people.

There is no cure for the hard-core micromanager, but if a care partner can distract and break the cycle, even for a short time, it makes a visit more pleasant. This is always a good thing!

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