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

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

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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."

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