How do you handle an older adult giving up too soon?

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My father is in his early 70s. After a hospitalization a few years ago that his doctor says his body has fully recovered from, my father is still extremely frail (cannot walk or shower without assistance). He rarely leaves the house and his inability to walk is largely because he is not using his body, so his muscles are atrophying. He is very angry and is mistreating my mother (which he has been doing for years, as a former alcoholic and prone to angry outbursts even when well, but now it is worse). He is the most pessimistic person I have ever met, again even when healthy.

He seems to be giving up on getting better (and he's not even sick! he's just frail). We all want to support him, but it is hard to know how to do so. I think he is dealing with anxiety and depression, but he believes any mental health issues he might have should be resolved through effort and not medication. So instead, he sits around all day, watching the news and staying angry. My mom does everything for him and is exhausted.

I do not live nearby and have small children and a immobile job, so I cannot move nearby to help out. I feel like we need to stop tiptoeing around him and push him harder about what's going on, but I worry that he would retaliate by being abusive towards my mom (and although he couldn't do anything physically at this point, his words are painful). This is all new to us, so any advice would be appreciated.

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Sunshine99 ~~ Blannie is SO correct here. This is the way your parents have lived for years and this is THEIR normal and there's nothing YOU can do to change it. Trust me, I know. My father was the same way in much of the same attitudes, etc. (without the alcoholism part) He was just angry and miserable the majority of the time and no matter what we (as children) did or said, he wouldn't change. He had COPD from years of smoking (however, he quit the last 15 years of his life) but by then it was way too late. The damage to his lungs was done. He never enjoyed life (at least as far back as I can remember and I'm 56 years old) and just gave up at 80 years old. The last picture I have of him was on his 80th birthday lying in the emergency room waiting to be seen by the Attending doc. He died a week later. So sad.

He would never discuss anything of importance (his family, what it was like to grow up, his final wishes for how he wanted to be treated/not treated, had no will or health care proxy -- nothing). What a shame. Now my VERY frail mother is doing the same thing. I take her to all her doctors appts and am concerned as she is falling on a regular basis but REFUSES to go to the hospital or have anyone help her. I've encourage her to exercise (even just lifting her legs while she is sitting) and she'll do it while I'm there, but then "forgets" or just doesn't do it. Her muscles are indeed atrophying and there's absolutely nothing I can do because she doesn't WANT to be helped. It's a Catch 22 really. She'll whine and cry when something happens but then won't help herself in the least little bit. My life is waiting by the phone for "the call" that she fell again and the other shoe has dropped. I have to say I cringe everytime the phone rings. I know in my mind I cannot change her -- it's ME that has to change the way I react to the situation. Sigh.
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Babalou, ur Dad sounds like mine. He had an anorism and was operated on twice in two years for a valve replacement. He. Suffered from esbestosis. He got more verbably abustive to my Mom as time went on. It was part of his illness. Leave him, they had been married for over 50yrs. I do think her Dad needs a good physical.
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Let your mother deal with him. It is not your job to "fix" him when he doesn't want to be "fixed". When your mother has had enough, then she will change her circumstance. The best you can do is be supportive, love your small children, and let your parents live the way they have.
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And finally, blannie, your comment about needing to be aware that my parents have been living their marital "script" for many years really resonated with me. You are so right.

I think my sibling and I need to try some "tough love". We tend to walk on eggshells around my dad because we don't like to see him get angry and we worry about him taking it out on my mom. But he's already angry and hard to live with.

Are there any good books or places to look into for ways to approach someone like this? And do you have any recommendations for finding counselors (both for my parents and for me)?
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Thank you for all of your helpful comments. I am thankful to have found this site and to be able to benefit from the wisdom you all have gained from experience.

To answer a few of your questions:
-My dad was hospitalized with a UTI that led to sepsis. We are aware of post-sepsis syndrome but his physicians claim that his body looks great and he is healthy. I'm skeptical.
-MaggieMarshall, I checked with my mom and sibling about COPD, and it looks like my dad's oxygen levels are great (maybe surprisingly so).
-Babalou, my dad indeed did go to rehab after I pushed him to do so. But eventually the insurance wouldn't cover any more sessions (after giving a number more than they initially said they would give). And so he got angry at insurance companies instead of motivated to work himself.
-Freqflyer, windyridge, misslauri, sophe509, you raise some really good points about my mom. I think after 30+ years with my father, who is at times bordering on verbally abusive (or maybe past bordering and I just hate to admit it), I think she feels incredibly stuck. She's done everything for him (cooking, bringing him meals, cleaning up after him, doing bills and house care) for so long that he doesn't do much of anything on his own. I do not know why she hasn't fully considered leaving him except that she maybe does not have the money to do so and would feel guilty if something happened to him. But she rarely gets any kind of break. I have offered for her to come visit us but she feels like she cannot leave him alone. Sounds like maybe I need to look into a part-time home companion and offer to pay for one, although I wager they'd both resist that, too. Any suggestions on how to find someone?
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You can offer suggestions to your parents, but you need to realize they've been living their marital "script" for many, many years. Trying to get either of them to change, unless they're really motivated, will only result in frustration for you.

I tried it with my parents and finally realized I was only making myself frustrated. So I backed off. So offer suggestions (like others have suggested getting mom away for a break) and if she's not interested and dad doesn't want any outside help, you just have to let them live their lives as they wish - even if it's unhealthy and frustrating for you. At that point, YOU can find a counselor to help you cope with their dysfunction by setting boundaries on how much you get pulled in to their situation. Good luck - it's not easy to watch your parents living in a way that is unhappy and unhealthy for them both.
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Some spouses behave as though abuse is just what is to be expected. As in your Mom's case. Maybe you would consider asking Mom to come visit you, or meet you on vacation somewhere. Leave Pops with a part-time home companion from a home care agency. Say 3 hours per day to fix his meals and get him his meds. You might also consider communicating with his physician and ask the doctor to prescribe something to calm the angry outbursts. If Mom fixes his medications for Pops, what's one more 'vitamin'?
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He sounds depressed. I'd find some way to get him into treatment. Or on antidepressants. other than that send mom on a vacation with a sibling and let dad deal on his own or with a care giver aka nurse ratchet. No one deserves the wrath of another. Maybe your mom feels she has to put up with this but she doesn't. Perhaps some tough love is in order. other than that pray that God would break through your dads heart.
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I posted too soon. Following up, I have no idea of your family situation. I think you said you don't live close by. Can you circle the wagons with family members and present a united front? It just seems like Dad may need a little tough love. Very tough.....
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I'm also worried about Mom. Do what has to be done for Dad but save your Mom.
My Dad is slipping away with dementia. I care about him and will deal with all his issues but I'm more sympathetic to Mom who is still balanced mentally and is suffering greatly with his loss of control.

It may seem unfair but I think its the reality of our situation. Your Dad needs to be dealt with and cared for whether he likes it or not. Your Mom needs distance and insulation from his anger and abuse. Quit fighting with him. Ask him if it's time to go into hospice.
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