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Husband is 88 years old and has never been hospitalized until the last year. He has been hospitalized 3 times; each time, during recovery, he is mean and lashes out verbally to wife. He also is now incontinent and needs lots of help moving around. He is not short-tempered with anyone other than his wife.

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I would make sure she knew your only interest is in visitation, not in control, nor in finances. Thinking of all the caregivers here who would love a little respite care from a son or daughter.....even if you are not her favorite person on the world, that coud be hard to reject.
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Is he on medications during his recovery period? I'm wondering if he's got issues with some new medication. Does he have dementia? If he's not on new medications and he doesn't have dementia, he's probably lashing out at the wife (is that you?) because he doesn't like the changes in his life (declining health and loss of control) and he's taking it out on the person he's most comfortable with, his wife. It's a sad thing, but I would say fairly common. I'd say the wife needs to get some help in dealing with her husband so that she's not the only person dealing with his recovery and recuperation. A calm discussion might be in order if he doesn't have dementia when he's feeling good.
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Being on one's best behavior when in pain, under stress, while worried, etc. can be very tiring. It is so tempting to just let your guard down and stop trying so hard sometimes. And with whom could you let your guard down? Unfortunately that could be the person you are most comfortable with, the one you can trust to be there for you no matter what, the one who has seen you at your best and at your worst, the one who promised to stay with you in sickness and in health.

This is certainly not fair, but sometimes it is the spouse (or the primary caregiver) who gets the brunt of the loved one's poor behavior.

How can a wife deal with this unfair treatment? Assure him often that she loves him and will stick by him throughout his illness. Sympathize with his complaints (not about her, but about his condition). Realize that it is his illness that is behind these outbursts, not his true feelings for her.

Also she can remove herself from the situation when he is being "mean." "I see that you are upset right now, dear. I'll come back in a little while and see if you are feeling calmer." Just because he is miserable and she loves him doesn't mean she has to subject herself to verbal abuse.

I hope this couple has sufficient in-home help that the full burden of care is not falling on the wife's shoulders. She should be there for him emotionally, but someone else should provide the physical care.
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