Critter Corner: How to Deal with Common Scenarios with Aging Parents

Dear Angel,

My parents are getting older and have become more difficult to deal with. It’s even hard to have a conversation with them sometimes, because they are stubborn and unwilling to listen to what I have to say. What are some typical scenarios people face with stubborn parents and how do they handle them, so I can be ready just in case?

Thanks so much for your help!

Senna Rios

Dear Senna,

One of the most common challenges family caregivers face is handling a stubborn parent. In fact, it’s so common that stubbornness is a self-reported problem in 90 percent of families with aging parents. Below are some common examples of scenarios and possible causes and solutions:

  • Anger, Hostility, and Outbursts: If your loved one has always been a bit cranky or set in their ways, challenges of aging will typically only amplify those traits. If you are met with anger or hostility when you approach your loved one about your concerns, it can feel like a personal attack. However, the more you know about the potential causes of that anger, the more you cannot take it personally and get any follow-up care your loved one may need.
    • What you can do? The aging process is not easy and can cause frustration in seniors. Having a bit of empathy and putting yourself in their shoes can soften your approach and help you not take any attacks personally.
  • Refusing to Shower or Bathe: Refusing personal care, especially showering or bathing, is quite common in older adults, especially if they are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. There are a variety of reasons why your loved one may be refusing to shower. It might feel too vulnerable or scary for them, and declining vision or cognition can only increase that fear.
    • What you can do? If your loved one is dealing with dementia, focus on working with his or her physician to determine what could be causing the resistance to showering. It could be a mix of anxiety and depression, or it could be a part of their dementia progression.
  • Abusive Behavior: Sometimes, anger and stubbornness can turn into abusiveness. Abusive behavior occasionally occurs in older adults. Sometimes, this behavior stems from a mental health issue that your loved one has lived with for years. In this case, you may already have some coping skills in your personal mental health toolbox that can help you navigate the situation. However, if abusive behavior is new, this can indicate a change in mental health or cognition.
    • What you can do? Try explaining how their behavior makes you feel. You can also leave the situation as long as your loved one is safe before you go. Finally, consider respite care to give you the break you need and deserve.
  • Using Inappropriate Language or Making Offensive Comments: Cognitive decline is often the reason behind seniors making offensive comments or using inappropriate language. However, it can still be upsetting for adult children or caregivers to hear, even if they’re aware of the source.
    • What you can do? Ignoring the behavior is sometimes the best solution. You can also call out the behavior and say you do not like it when they do that. However, if your loved one has dementia, it is important for you to note that they will likely not be able to remember your direction or consequences.
  • Paranoia, Delusions, and Hallucinations: It can be startling to watch your loved one experience delusions or paranoia. Cognitive decline is often the reason why it happens, but it is also possible that your loved one is experiencing a medication side effect. Be sure you speak to your loved one’s physician or pharmacist to talk about these types of side effects. Dementia and infections, such as a UTI, can also cause this type of behavior.
    • What you can do? Work with your loved one’s medical team to discover the underlying cause of the delusions or paranoia. Once you are able to discern if it is a dementia side effect, an infection, or a medication issue, you can begin to make the appropriate changes.
  • Refusing to Accept Care: If your loved one simply refuses to let you help at all, they are likely feeling embarrassed about their declining health or increasing needs. They may also not want you to take on that burden.
    • What you can do? Speak openly with your loved one so you can find ways they will accept your help. It can also be helpful to get your loved one’s physician involved in the conversation. In many cases, your loved one may accept help from others more easily than from you, so begin to look at senior living solutions that will provide the help they need.

Hope this is helpful!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.