QUESTION:My elderly uncle is bedridden. As his caregiver, it is important to me that he look presentable and well-cared for when family and friends come to visit. Unfortunately, he doesn’t share my opinion. He is happy to wear the same pajamas and robe day after day. I don’t think this pattern is healthy. He has physical issues, but his mind is extremely sharp. I am at wits end and finding I am not able to communicate with my uncle anymore because he is being so stubborn. Do you have ideas for me?—Mona
DEAR MONA: If you know for sure your uncle’s behavior isn’t due to depression, and his poor self-care habits aren’t bringing in rats or other small rodents, there probably isn’t much you can do to spiff him up. Is there a chance his stubbornness is more about control and he is trying desperately to exert his independence? Is there a chance he doesn’t care to be around those who come to visit? Caregivers often labor under the misconception that they can regulate the behaviors of those in their care. Healthy caregiving is more about service than about supervising; more about listening than talking. Before your communication with your uncle breaks down completely, allow him to voice his concerns in a safe environment with no arguments or suggestions overriding his opinions. If he needs you to launder his bedclothes and sheets on his schedule, allow him that kindness. Experts tell us we can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. So try showering your uncle with catalogs full of handsome pajamas and robes. Fill his room with lovely fresh flowers and plants. Prepare hot tea and tasty goodies served on a lovely tray. Maybe in time your uncle will embrace your more gracious way of life and you won’t have to worry that the bedbugs might bite.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.