Confronting An Elderly Parent’s Cranky Behavior

Five Steps to Dealing With an Uncooperative Parent with Dementia

An elderly parent who constantly complains and criticizes may seem like a description of a sitcom character. But in reality, many older adults live with the stress of trying to care for their parent or parents who may be in a bad mood the majority of the time.

In an article on Psychology Today, Dr. Mark Goulston gives some advice on dealing with a cranky elderly parent. First off, it’s important not to feel any guilt or resentment about behavior that may be surfacing, and what’s more, children of aging parents must be proactive in addressing bad behavior directly.

Here are some key points from the article:

  • Many adult children–often in their 50s and 60s–are relieved to know they’re not alone in feeling that they are living under a cloud that will only leave when their parents pass away. “For them, there is no such thing as good news–not when their mother or father is chronically ailing or, worse, in good health but with a bitter or negative disposition,” Goulston writes.
  • When an older adult has the desire for their parent to die sooner rather than later, it naturally brings with it large amounts of guilt and stress. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t love them or really want them to die. Rather, it’s far more likely a desire for resolution to the unsettling feelings that are rooted in frustration and exhaustion caused by overseeing their parent’s care.
  • After an adult child comes to terms both intellectually and emotionally that they love their parents but resent their crabby behavior, they can become emboldened to stand up to them, which seemed impossible before.
  •  Goulston cites an example of a patient finally standing up to her elderly mother living in an assisted living facility. He describes what she said during the confrontation: “You’re my mother and I’m always going to love you, for as long as you live and beyond, but if you continue to act as negatively as you are, I’m not going to like you. And if I don’t like you, I’m going to visit you less often and shorten the amount of time I spend with you at each visit.”
  • Put in the above, frank terms, the elderly mother realized she had become a bully. And, not wanting to lose the companionship of her daughter, she began to change her behavior.

Coming to terms with an uncooperative parent’s behavior and ailing health is never an easy journey. But by being honest with yourself about your feelings, you will free yourself from any guilt and resentment you’ve built up, allowing you to enjoy what time with your parent or parents that you have left.

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