Resent elderly spouse's self-centeredness

When we were younger, the 20-year difference in age between my husband and me didn't mean much. But now, as he is nearly 90 years old, we no longer have a partnership. He has become self-centered, and he doesn't seem to care about me or how I feel. He seems to feel entitled to all the attention, care, and understanding simply because he is the one closer to death. Meanwhile, I am spending the energy and time I still have tending to his needs, knowing that I will have  no one to do the same for me when I'm his age. It makes me very resentful, and I get irritable. Then I feel guilty, and I withdraw. Talking doesn't seem to make any difference -- he is what he is at this point. Family members are not an option. I would love to take a short trip, but I don't dare leave him alone because he is fragile, and does things like leaving the stove on and the water running. Life is not pleasant for either of us now, and I'm not sure what to do. 

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AARP Expert

Hi Marilou,


     Let me first say that your husband is very lucky to have you in his corner. He probably always has been. I think the advice that you have already been given is good; it is important to gain hands-on help and respite. I'd like to offer two perspectives on why people with illness sometimes become self-centered:


     --There is a psychological tendency for people who are receiving lots of attention and care to become somewhat regressed and even child-like. They then stop thinking of others' well-being and just focus on their own. They come to expect that others are going to meet their needs.


    --I don't know your husband's medical conditions. There is a neuropsychological tendency for people who have some degree of dementia, espcially if they have frontal lobe damage, to lose the cognitive ability to take into account others' perspectives. It is as if they have a tin ear for others' needs. They also lack the insight to even realize that they aren't aware of what others are thinking and feeling. I don't raise this possibility to necessarily excuse your husband's self-centeredness but to take a little of the sting out of it for you. If his personality has changed and he seems oblivious to your needs, then it may simply be because his brain can no longer function as it once did.


     I suggest that you get the help and respite your need. And lower your expectations of him. I know: Easier said than done. Good luck!--Barry J. Jacobs, co-author of AARP Meditations for Caregivers


My heart goes out to your plight!  As a home health aid I offer a couple options that might help to turn your situation completely around.


1) Engage help immediately- not family but an agency in your town specializing in senior care.


2) Hire an aide to provide you with a break!  You’ll think more clearly getting out of the house and some of your resentment will dissipate pretty quickly.


3) Have a home accessment done immediately so you can put in place some options for your spouse’s safety and then you’ll feel more confident about leaving him for you to take a break.  


Finally, plan something special for the 2 of you and make a real effort to rekindle the love.  Good luck, I believe you do love your spouse, but you really need some self care in order to change your attitude towards him.

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Thank you for your helpful advice. I am pursuing several leads and hope to line up a helper to let me get awaygive me some time to enjoy myself. 

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