Dealing with a Clingy Elder

One of the largest concerns on the minds of most caregivers is their elderly loved one’s behavior. As people grow older, they may resent being alone, and if they have a caregiver, they may not want their caregiver to leave them alone. In fact, many elderly adults never want their caregivers out of their sight. For caregivers, this can be extremely stressful and guilt-inducing, especially if the caregiver is a family member. If you are taking care of your elderly loved ones, then leaving them when they feel clingy can be incredibly hard and challenging. Dealing with a clingy elderly loved can especially be a challenge if you have to work another job, take care of other family members, or just need a bit of time to yourself. In this article we will discuss the ways to help you dissipate your loved one’s behavior and determine if their behavior is truly necessary or if it is a ploy to keep you in their sights.

Most often, if your loved one is clingy, then they truly feel like they need you around. However, sometimes, elderly loved ones may have an issue staying home by themselves and their fears may drag you down. If the latter is true, then by sticking close to them, you may simply be enabling their behavior. To determine if their behavior is fear-induced or if they truly are clingy for some reason, keep reading about the most common situations that arise when an elderly loved one is clingier than normal.

Puppy Situation

The elderly adult in the puppy situation is perfectly safe in their own home. This person typically has no behavioral disorder that causes them to become overly anxious whenever left alone. However, this person still prefers that you, as their primary caregiver, stay with them at all times. This situation is known as a puppy situation, because, like puppies, your elderly loved one clings to only one person. If you are dealing with this type of situation and behavior, then the best technique is to try behavior modification. Start by having a reasonable conversation with your loved one and explain to them why you cannot stay with them every second of every day. If they are not receptive, then begin offering them rewards for their desired behavior. This technique is very simple and has been proven to work. Let your loved one choose from a variety of rewards such as food rewards, trip rewards, and activity rewards in order to coax them into staying with another caregiver or by themselves. After a while, your loved one will learn to modify their behavior and will be able to stop staying right next to you at all times. In the meantime, try not to feel guilty when you leave them alone. If they protest, then just remember to stay strong and overtime their behavior will change.

Nervous Situation

In the nervous situation, your loved one is completely safe at home alone, but may panic and feel overly anxious whenever they are by themselves. Sometimes, this situation arises due to behavioral issues which may or may not be related to their primary medical condition. However, other times, they simply have more anxiety than normal and their nervousness does not stem from their medical condition. If your loved one is overly nervous, talk with them to decide if their nerves are normal or if they could be suffering from an anxiety disorder. You may also need to call your loved ones family doctor in order to have their symptoms evaluated. If they do have an anxiety disorder, then it may be best to seek help from a mental health professional and determine from them how you can help your loved one. If they do not, then you can try to find ways to alleviate your loved one’s anxiety and nerves when you are gone. To do so, try to find ways to make them feel safe whenever you are not at home, but do not except them to change their behavior on their own. You and your other family members may have to take an active role in their life to help them deal with their anxieties and their nerves.

Learned Behavior

Loved ones, who exhibit clingy behavior that is not associated with nerves or a medical condition, may be clingy because of a learned behavior. In this case, your loved one has had a real life bad experience that happened whenever you were not around. They become clingy because they are afraid that the same bad experience may happen again if you leave. For loved ones who have learned clingy behaviors, you have to acknowledge the reality of their fear. If you understand that they are clingy because of a past experience, then you can try to explain to them the reasoning behind their behaviors. If they hear the reasoning from you, then they may be able to relax. Talk with your loved one about their behaviors and create safety nets for them to rely on while you are out of the house. For example, by installing a medical alert system or giving them a cell phone, you can give them a sense of peace when you are out of the house because they will always have a way to contact someone.

Oblivious Behavior

People who show oblivious behavior are unaware of their clingy behavior. They probably will not be able to change their behaviors due to being so oblivious to it. Most elderly loved ones who are oblivious to their clingy behavior are so because of a medical condition. For these loved ones, its best to stay close and help them become more comfortable with other caregivers. If they can become close to a few other caregivers, then you can rotate shifts.

Manipulative Behavior

These individuals are very aware of their clingy behavior, and are never at risk for being unsafe in their own home. Instead, they may act like they are unsafe or act like they are super anxious to be left alone. If your loved one is manipulative, then work with them to get to the root of their behaviors. Talk with them directly, and overtime, you can learn to leave them easier and they can learn to stop being manipulative.

If your loved one is clingy, then it may be challenging for you and for them. Decide which type of clinginess your loved one is portraying, and then follow these tips to try to get your loved one to feel safer and more comfortable without you constantly by their side. Overtime, you and your loved one can learn to enjoy time apart.

For more information on dealing with different behaviors, check the following post in our home care blog: