My wife's dad has no patience at all. What can I do to cope with this?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 19, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My wifes dad is 87 and lives with us and has no patients at all. He wants things done right then when he ask for it, and if we dont do it right then when he wants it, he gets mad and throws a fit like a 2yr old. Ex: Last night when I got home from work he asked me if my wife was home from work yet because he wanted her to balance his check book. My wife usually gets off at 5pm but had to work til 8pm and I told him she'd be home at 8pm and that she was bringing home work to finish and that she wouldnt be able to balance his check book tonight. He said it would only take her 5 minutes and I warned him that she was too busy to do it when she got home. He was able to hold off a few hours after she got home, but then couldnt restrain himself and asked her to balance his check book and thats when the argument started, and it wasnt pretty. My wife got so mad at him and yelled at him for always wanting things done right then and having no patients. She told him she works very hard for a living and its not fair to her for him to always want things done right then when he ask for it; and then my wife cries and feels horrible for yelling at him, but he just nags over and over until we give in. Please tell me what we can do to cope with this. Thank you

Expert Answers

Linda Adler is the director of Pathfinders Medical in Palo Alto, California. She has dedicated her professional life to helping patients and their families find optimal ways to deal with medical challenges. She has worked in all facets of the medical establishment, including primary care, research, and policy settings at UCSF, Stanford, and Kaiser Permanente. Her current focus at Pathfinders includes crisis management, mediation, and advocacy.

This does indeed sound like a frustrating situation, but there may be some simple solutions that will help to improve things.

First, how does your father-in-law spend his days? Is he enjoying any kind of physical activity, even if it's just a slow walk up and down your street? Or, if physical activity is too difficult for him, is he able to leave the house to get some fresh air, maybe just sitting outside for a few minutes each day?

Second, is getting enough mental stimulation? Does he read books or magazines, listen to music, or talk on the phone to friends, or family members? Or, is he passing his time in front of the television, or sitting by himself? If he's bored and not interested in anything, he may take his frustration out on you.

Helping your father in law find activities and distraction may help him find some value to each day, which may lead him to feel less frustrated by his situation, less focused on the two of you, and less difficult to deal with. If the previous suggestions don't help, have you considered taking him to a local senior center that provides support and activities? A day care program could give you a break and also help your father in law get more connected with a new community.

Last, what is his current state of health? You say he is no longer able to do things like balance a checkbook: is this due to his advanced age? Or does he have some other decline in mental status, due to a physical impairment, such as a stroke, or perhaps some kind of dementia? If he does have a physical problem, I'm wondering if it's contributing to his irritability and unreasonableness. When was the last time he was checked by a medical provider? If he isn't being followed regularly, it would be important to get him in to see someone as soon as possible.

The key to making this situation better is to stand back from it in order to figure out some coping strategies. Be sure to check out the relevant articles on this website and the resources that are available in your area. Good luck to you!

Community Answers

Ellen65761 answered...

These are all very good idea's, but one problem. My Mother -in law came to live with us. I had known her since I was in my teen's and loved her very much. I tried all of the idea's you have put in your answer, and she refused to try any of them. The only thing she would do is go and have her hair fixed once a week. She was able to get around good, but would over dose herself on laxatives, thought she had to have at least 5 bowel movements a day and would dehydrate herself, and end up in the hospital with IV's.The physician had me take away her laxatives and give them to her if didn't have one BM a day. Her health improved but she wouldn't leave the couch, or do any of the things I tried very hard to get her to do.I knew some ladies around her age and would invite them over , to try and give her an interest.She ignored them so they quit coming. Can't say I blame them.She just wanted me to sit there at the TV with her and watch TV.I am a registered nurse and worked the 3 to 11 shift.My husband was with her in the evening. I even went so far as not cooking anything for supper and then she would get up long enough to fix supper for my husband and herself. At least that gave her something to do. The rest of the family didn't live with in 2 thousand miles of us. But they would call and tell me how mean I was to her. Taking away the laxatives and making her cook supper for herself and my husband. I just quit talking to them, but at least she hadn't been in the hospital dehydrated and on IV's, and she was doing something. Sometimes you run up against a senior citizen that just won't do anything or try. Just sits and waits to dye.She was use to a picture wall in her home and so I asked her one day if she would like to make a picture wall in the front room.We started that but at the half way mark she lost interest and stopped helping with it. then I would get out pictures and ask her where she wanted it put on the wall, sometimes she would respond to that and sometimes not. I finally gave up and told her other son, if he didn't like the way I was trying to just come and get her. He did and he let her take all the laxatives she wanted, she was back in the hospital with IV's, after a few months she passed away when she could have lived years longer and have a good and interesting life, with a lot of friends. It made me very sad , as I loved her very much.

Syble answered...

All the above answers sound helpful but I would like to add... Perhaps it might be helpful to have a set time/date that he could know the checkbook balance would take place rather then just upon his demand. Having his own scheduled time could be helpful for any of his needs for extra attention. (Example: The First Saturday morning after the bank statement is received) That way he would know up front what to expect and your wife would know what time is set aside to do it. If he starts demanding instant response, the arguments can be stopped with one simple statement of, "that is on our schedule for such and such a day @ what ever time was agreed upon". If necessary write the schedule down for him. Just knowing he has a schedule could make him less anxious.