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My parents live nearby but not under same roof. They are in their 70s, I am in my 40s. We have always had a great relationship. There may be some early stages of dementia with my father. Over the past 5 years they have spiraled into very negative thinking and behaving. I have slowly detached. Now I dread dealing with them on any level because the negativity is so bad that it can ruin an otherwise good day. I feel I can no longer be friends with them, they are just something in my life that I have to "deal" with. Note that they are otherwise physically and financially healthy. This is a pattern of living and thinking that they have developed and is becoming toxic. I am wondering about others' experiences with this type of situation.

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Do you ever deal with them individually? Can you get them apart and talk to them in a non-accusatory way about their insular life and negative vibe? What I'm wondering is if your dad IS slipping into dementia and pulling your mother into his realm of altered thinking?

If you could get your mom alone and gently feel out her views of their life and how things are going, it might be worth the effort. Is retirement treating them like they thought it would? Are they happy? Do they have a bucket list that they'd like to fill?

At 64, I have come to believe there are two types of people as we age, those who basically give up and start acting like "old people" well before their time and those who try/want to stay mentally and physically young and hang around with others who share those views. I'm in the second camp and have close relatives falling (to some degree) into the first camp. My relatives are a married couple and one has no interest in physical activity or eating well. She strongly influences how the other person behaves, to his detriment. So I wonder if something similar is going on with your parents? If that's the case, it will only change if the "healthier" partner wants it to change. If they're happy/satisfied/resistant to change in their unhealthy lifestyle, there's not much you can do.

In that case I agree with distancing yourself and getting counseling so that you can learn how to set limits to keep your own mental health. People only change when they want to change and you can't make that decision for them. Please keep us posted on what happens.
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My sister was like this. She never failed to bring everything down with the endless negativity. Every time she spent time with our mother (who was doing great at that time, BTW) she'd never fail to tell me "mom's doing real bad" even though the "bad" things were simple age-related issues that were very easily addressed. Unfortunately she died five years ago after ignoring blatantly obvious signs of coronary disease. And by "ignoring" I mean she collapsed with crushing chest pains and refused any treatment. Really.
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This is a mental health issue and should be addressed according. Best you see a qualified psych pro for this problem. Throwing an anti-depressant into this might seem to be correct but from what you have posted I doubt your folks are forthcoming to Doc. Treat underlying cause. It's behavioral dysfunction and can be corrected.
I think that avoiding them altogether isnt the solution. They are sick and need help. What is likely the best thing for YOU is develop a support network and attend group meetings.
I hope I did not offend. All the best, L
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Mmmm, this is a difficult one. If reducing your involvement helps you then there is value in doing so as that supports all in your world. I do have doubts that that will help your parents and it seems to me that you truly care for them despite your great frustration.

Do they have any hobbies? old friends? other interests which may reinvigorate them if reconnected? Are you sure they are as financially, mentally and physically fit and able as you believe them to be? Are there any community groups, social clubs or friendship groups you can introduce them to? Do they attend family functions? If so, would it be possible to find a reason to have a family occasion? Do they have any long lost friends,workmates etc. you can contact and invite along? You may have already tried these - just thinking as I go - we sometimes just don't know what is impacting our closest friends or family and at times we don't know what to do. Sometimes it is time that heals. Perhaps they are bitterly disappointed by something or someone? Perhaps "bumping into" an old friend, relative or associate can flick a switch and renew their vigor. It does appear that they are likely blind to the reality of their behaviour toward each other and you and whilst they are being negative in what they say to you and how they behave around you I can see that the positive side to that is they trust you - implicitly it seems. How else would they feel comfortable to share such burdens with you. You are right to let them know that you love them both and; as such, it is inappropriate for them to bad mouth each other to you - you are still their child, it makes for an unhealthy family dynamic and difficult moments. If you can help them see that they will surely not want to put you in such a difficult position. Did they enjoy holidays of a certain genre in the past? Would you be in a position to give them such a holiday as a surprise gift? What about digging up old photos etc. and having a get together where you ask them about the photos and what was happening when they were taken - it might help them to remember how they once enjoyed life or spark some happy memories which may help. As I'm no expert I would say you seem to be doing well with it all, stay strong, and if happy moments together don't do the trick perhaps an old-timers cruise would be good for them - it will hopefully either be their cup of tea now or perhaps be something of a mirror to their ways of late? Good luck. Keep living with; and being guided by, a loving heart and you will certainly do the best thing possible.
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Veronica I totally relate to what you said about your husband. Mine is exactly the same way. Its impossible to have a reasonable discussion with him about anything unless its a very neutral subject. If its political, financial, about a crime story on t.v. etc. forget it. He just blows a gasket. Rants and raves till I just excuse myself from the discussion or should I say rant.

If I complain about anything he turns into a monologue about how that person should die, or this person should this and on and on and on. Some days I don't know how I am going to stand it another minute.

I'd be interested to hear how you deal with it and keep your sanity.
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SendMe, I think it would be unwise if the relationship is toxic. I doubt if the parents would understand or want to understand. If their behavior is hostile, it might become even more so because they're angry you (or someone else) is backing up.

If the relationship is reasonably good, though I think it's just courteous to explain why you're backing off, such as health reasons. But so much depends on (a) the relationship, and (b) the reason for detaching.
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Was wondering, from other caregivers, when detaching, would it be kinder to let the elderly parents know that is what you are doing, or, if it is toxic, that would be contraindicted?
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Yes, detach with love.
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Thank you all for the responses. Yes they are able to live a full and independent life. They live in a nice house, still driving, two cars in the driveway, able to shop, would be able to travel, finances are good. They are in better shape than most of their peers, except for the horrible attitudes. They have become shut ins and live life as if they were at least a decade older than they really are. I believe they need counseling but they have declined it when it was suggested earlier this year by family doctor, so I guess that's out. My problem is I am fed up and beginning to avoid contact with them. I feel guilty but I also feel a sense of relief, like a weight has been lifted. It's like I've finally given myself permission to step away from them and live my life without their constant dark cloud over my head!
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Couple of things: they live in the same house? They are physical able? Still driving? Able to shop, go to appointments on their own? Finances OK?

If they are still pretty much on their own and making you nuts because of their behavior, yea, getaway from them. Most people post this type of story but are also up to their necks in caregiving duties and feel guilty for pulling away.

Also, if your father is developing dementia this can make a bad relationship worse. Neither of them are aware that dementia is affecting them. You might want to have him tested. Mom needs to understand the aspects of dementia so she can deal with him more effectively. Or would that be beyond her abilities?
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My parents kind of did that too..I wished I could have gotten them into counseling when it could still have been helpful, or some antidepressants tried...mom eventually got some and it helped a little but she had some very fixed negative ideas in her head by that time and her dementia just kind of let her elaborate them into stories that to the best of my knowledge did not happen. Sorry you are going through this. It is very hard to be around negativism, whether it is due to depression or just a horrible bad habit, or a little of both, since one can lead to the other for sure.
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The term "energy vampires" has been used to describe negative people. I think it's a good description. It's also a good reminder to keep my complaints to myself when I'm angry.
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Are they able to recognise it and control it in any way or dou they see youas the person who does not see the bad things in life.
My husband is a bit like that. if I mention anything negative in the news he will immediately find someone to blame and go into a tirade about how they should be thrown in jail fined etc.
I think I have finally convinced him that although I usually agree with his sentiments I choose not to discuss things that I can do nothing about and that just spewing negativity about something is very stressful and poisons the atmosphere. He has now finally realized it is not good for my health to be constantly subjected to this kind of stress and agreed to moderate his comments. Upstream your parents sound as though they have had a very unhappy life together and one can only feel sorry for them. I think you are right in limiting the time you spend with them and make sure you will not end up being a caregiver for either of them in the future. When either starts to complain just tell them you will not discuss the others problems and it is none of your business how they live their lives. If they persist repeat what you just said and leave the room or the house
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Thanks 1golflady! It's been a slow detaching process with loads of guilt, but I have a happy marriage, run a small business, and take good care of myself physically. Their negativity has the potential to bring it all crashing down! It's just awful :(
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Your doing the right thing by detaching, Their negativity is only going to get worse. And take it from my personal experience , their negativity will suck more life from you daily. You cant make a negative person happy they will always come up with some excuse to make everything negative.
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Well, they have always been very negative and serious people, but it has only become what I would describe as "toxic" during the past few years. Both are non-sociable and reject all activities outside of the home, and it's been that way for most of their lives together. They used to enjoy each others' company and were fine with quiet things like reading and watching movies, debating current issues, etc. Thank you GardenArtist for responding. I don't remember where I found the avatar, it's been a while since I set up this account. The "upstream" idea really described what I felt at the time!!
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My mistake; I thought your profile stated that your father is in an ALF.

I don't have a lot of insight into the situation except to observe that their social contact is limited primarily to each other and you occasionally, so that's one aspect that could contribute to isolation and magnify the negativity. Being out with others generally can motivate people to be more cordial, although not always.

Sometimes the least likely issues are at play - I've read that social interaction can be lessened because of hearing difficulties, or incontinence problems. Folks become anxious and stay home to avoid not being able to participate in conversations, and/or having accidents while out.

Are there any events to which you can attribute this change, or were their personalities like this before the isolation and negativity intensified?

This is a toughie; I'm looking forward to other's responses.

And, BTW, i absolutely love your avatar. There are similar paintings in the trauma rooms at our favorite hospital and they so, completely, totally, absolutely soothing and calming.
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No ALF, they still live in their residence. And, there are really no family members but me. They have turned away most friends. They sit alone in their house all day and argue and pick at each other. Then, each one vents to me. If I stop by for a visit to check in I am treated like a referee. If I am with one of them alone, all they do is complain to me about the other one. I absolutely dread interaction with them. And I emphasize there are no physical or financial conditions which prevent them from going out and being active, and engaging in life.
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What's the onset of the negativity in relation to the time your father was placed in an assisted living facility? Are they angry with you or other family members because of this?
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