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

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 Answer

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!