Dear Carol: My mother, age 94, has smoked her whole life, carried too much weight, eaten junk, wouldn’t exercise and wouldn’t even take a vitamin. Late last year, she had a stroke that left her physically disabled to the point that she needs to be in a nursing home.
So far, she shows no sign of dementia, but she’s angrier than ever because of her situation. The care staff is angelic. I don’t know how they do it because I’m a mess. I’m almost glad that the COVID situation has kept us separate because on video she’s usually distracted enough to not let loose her full-strength fury on me.
Now that I can finally visit outside from a distance, her anger is making the whole time miserable. She’s always had an anger problem, but now all she does is cuss and berate me for not being there enough in person, not fixing the damage from the stroke, not loving her enough. What can I do to make her stop being so mean to me? — SL.
Dear SL: I’m so sorry! Your history points to a lot of misery with your mother. Her anger is misplaced, but her personality is unlikely to change so you’ll need to see what you can do to take care of yourself.
It might be helpful to ask the floor nurse to have a doctor revisit the idea of dementia. It’s possible that this aggressive anger is caused by her brain misfiring even if she doesn’t show classic signs of vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s. Obtaining this knowledge won’t make her more pleasant toward you, but the more everyone involved knows about what is causing her behavior the better able you’ll be to develop methods of relating to her.
Additionally, your mother is likely taking several medications, some new since her stroke, so I’d suggest that you discuss her prescriptions with the physician. There are medications that might work for most people in her situation, but they could be causing anxiety for her. There are also some medications that have been shown to trigger aggression.
If dementia is the issue you may benefit from using different methods of setting boundaries, but you still don’t need to just sit and take it. The staff will help you deal appropriately with it.
Dementia or not, let your mother know that you’ll listen to her express her frustration because you understand that her new life is hard to accept, but you will no longer let her verbally abuse you.
You've lived a life with an angry mother. Remember that the staff doesn’t share this emotional burden so it's easier for them to cope. It sounds as if she’s being well cared for, so if you need to step away from direct interaction, do that.
It might help, too, if you seek some counseling for personalized help in handing your visits. Being a target of your mother’s anger from birth is no small matter, and nothing that she’s dealing with now is your fault.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.