My elderly mother is becoming mean, hateful and unreasonable. How can I deal with this?

489 Comments

Q: My elderly mother is becoming mean, hateful and unreasonable. How can I deal with this?

A: Age and illness can intensify longstanding personality traits in some unpleasant ways: An irritable person may become cantankerous, an impatient person demanding and impossible to please. Unfortunately, the person taking care of the elderly parents is oftent the target of this bad behavior.

The changes are often due to fear and uncertainty. Faced with loss of resources, functional capacities and independence, many people respond by going into a kind of self-protective emotional "survival mode".

Try to find out what your mother fears, and see if there are ways you can help her address those concerns. If efforts to address her fears don't help, you may want to confront her about her attitude, respectfully but assertively.

Frightened, angry people often really don't realize how their feelings are being displaced onto those they love—they're too focused on how they feel to attend to how their actions are impacting on you.

Offer to help her find a therapist to work through her feelings. If she won't go to therapy (or even if she will), consider going yourself, to learn constructive responses to her behavior (and how you can cope more effectively with the stress of caregiving).


Dr. Mary A. Languirand, PhD is a clinical psychologist who co-authored "When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care." Read her full biography

Dr. Mary Languirand, PhD

Follow this author

Mary A. Languirand, PhD, is in private practice in Garden City, NY, and counsels individuals, families, and health professionals in skilled nursing facilities. She co-authored (with Robert Bornstein, PhD) "When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In-Home Care."

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!

489 Comments

I am so sorry for everyone dealing with problematic parents. It's sheer hell isn't it? Maria and her sister, your situation has me in tears. I only have my Mom, and she goes through really ugly-mean stages that have me looking for a bridge to jump off. If I didn't have a couple of cats that brighten my day, I would lose my mind. I'm disabled and have no sisters or brothers to offer moral support. She is my only living relative. I have too many health problems to go to church. And living with a verbally abusive elderly parent you're caring for, I've become isolated from friends cause I can't keep up with them.

If I had to do it all over again I would have moved out of state and never looked back. But I've dug myself in a hole. Some days are better than others. She is sugar sweet to everyone else but me. She isn't senile, her mind is sharp, she's just damn mean and it's gotten worse in the last few years. She won't bathe because she doesn't care if I have to put up with her stink. She won't go to the dentist and hasn't flossed for years so some of her teeth have rotten. I can't afford to put her in a nursing home. She cancelled her long term care and Medicare only pays for 101 days, so I've been told they would put a lien on the house we own jointly. And as she is still sharp, I can't forcibly make her go anyway.

I'm just sad for all of us going through this. My mom sucked all the joy and happiness I had years ago, I have nothing left. A friend once told me I'm not the first person feeling this downhearted over this, and I won't be the last. I try to find comfort in that someday I will be happy about something, that sadness doesn't last forever.

Saying prayers for everyone here. Thank you for letting me lean on your heavily burdened shoulders.
Well, I posted before and decided to take the 'high' road and make amends with my Mother. I realize she's not going to change and for me to keep the bitterness in, it's only going to kill me in spirit, mental health and overall well being.
So, we set the boundaries, 'no heavies'...can handle ea. other for a little while and yet still keep a safe distance.
I just know that she's not going to be around long, and I know what I needed to do in order to keep 'Peace' in my own life.
So........she came over and we actually made it for 3 days...I had to bite my tongue many a times, but there she was at 83 showing me how to chop wood...it was hilarious actually and a time I now will never forget.
Sometimes we have to take this 'high' road as it is what Christ would want us to do. Also, it takes that nagging and uneasy edge off of you. That's key.
Good Luck all...I'm the one that posted the 7 kid thing a couple back.
In my world, I choose to forgive....doesn't mean I'll ever trust, but I will forgive and move on.
I wanted to give an update, however I would like to take this chance to thank everyone for their thoughts, comments and lending yourselves when I needed it the most. I think this was the most helpful thing I found while taking care of my mother, unable to leave the home or talk on the phone. I felt a sense of relief by joining this sight and walking away everytime feeling better about all my work and effort. On that note For two days my mother stayed asleep occasionally waking like normal when her anxiety is up, everything seemed normal. The second morning she needed to get up to go to the rest room, she claimed the room was spinning so I brought her potty to her. Though she said she would be fine I called the ambulance to check on her. They checked her and said with someone with this bad of COPD she sounded fine and did not need to go to the ER. I explained that I thought she had anothe UTI and insisted they take her. She got there and not only was her oxygen extremely low, she had a UTI so bad that there was puss coming from her bladder and the smell was horrific. Then they said her blood levels were at a 5 and had to give her 2 pints of blood. She was bleeding internally. Then they found that her digestive tract had seized and they had to put her on a ventilator during which time the found she could not intake any nutrition. When they tried to tube feed her it came right back up and into her lungs. It went from a week on CPAP to a week on ventilator then with no improvement we decided to remove it, understanding there was no chance of her getting better. she went almost a week just fighting until she seen all her grand kids and my kids and I were next to her as she took her last breath and she peacefully slipped away. She passed 4-28-15. The monday after was her funeral and we made it a very cheerful event. she said she wanted to here laughter not crying. Death was always a main topic of discussion for us, we were not shy or scared to talk about it. She had most arrangements made, but she had told me she wanted ev1 to sign her casket and we did. I bought 100 neon shirts since she loved neon, everyone was asked to wear them to the funeral, We had a balloon releasing. It was nothing like any funeral anyone had ever experienced. we told stories and there was so much laughter I know she would have loved it. Not to count I had them dress her in her normal tacky non matching clothes, she looked so very normal. Anyway she is at peace now with no more health problems and got to go home to my dad like she wanted and had been praying for in the past 2 years. I loved her no matter how awful she could be. Her illness made her unbearable at times, but I never expected her to go so soon, she will be greatly missed. Again I couldnt have held in there so long without ev1 here, Thank you so much, much love and prayers for those that need it.