One unchangeable fact of life is that people never stop changing, no matter how old they get. Ageing brings a cascade of physical and emotional changes, which can lead to a variety of behavioural changes that can baffle or worry an older adult’s loved ones.

All too often family members complain that an elderly loved one is hostile, unpleasant, rude or awkward and this can lead to explosive family rows and simmering resentment on both sides, however as their child, it can help to view these encounters from an entirely different perspective.

Ageing parents

For a person who has always been independent, athletic, and able to recall many details, losing these faculties brings many underlying fears to the surface. Feelings of both helplessness and hopelessness can overtake their thought processes.

Cognitive decline (such as that found in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and Pick’s Disease) can trigger severe levels of frustration. Also, most people are more irritable when they do not feel well. 

It is important to remember that anger is often an outward expression of inner fears and that while the complaints may seem to be hurled in your direction, it often has little if anything to do with you.

How Can This Affect Our Relationship With Them? 

Caring for ageing parents can become very time-consuming and emotionally wrenching as we watch our loved ones decline in health. Often as children, the resentment of being unable to express discomfort and thoughts about their changing behaviour runs deep and is bottled up, hence affecting our overall wellbeing. It’s important for adult children to really assess the situation thoroughly–and honestly. For instance, some individuals always see the glass half empty, regardless of the circumstance. If your ageing parent was always negative, the illness will not bring out the best in them. Complaining personalities generally remain negative and sometimes you, as the caregiver, must be honest with yourself about this.

8-10 Ways To Deal With Ageing, Cranky Parents When They Don't Listen To You

Reason Why, Rather Than Reasoning With

Instead of trying to convince him/her about your view, try and explore theirs. No matter what their age or mental condition, people respond to feeling heard and loved.

Look For The Good

You may be in the trenches now, but you and your parent have shared a lifetime together. When times get tough, try to focus on the good qualities of your relationship and the happy memories you have shared.

Treat Them Like the Adults They Are

While it may feel as if the relationship between you and your parents have switched at times, it is important to remember that they are still your parents and that they desire to be treated with respect. 

Change The Dynamics

It’s easy to fall into patterns of negative interactions. Identify stressful situations and arrange a change of scenery or new activity. A nature walk, lunch outing or activity that can help channel negative emotions into positive ones.

Reach Out For Help

Delegate and find others to help if having too much of the caregiver burden is getting you down.

Try To Understand The Motivation Behind Their Behaviour

Taking time to understand how your parents might be feeling and realizing that their autonomy is important to them can help reduce a lot of negative emotions.

Help From The Experts

While crankiness can be a state of being, it can also have underlying causes. If your ageing loved one is habitually grumpy, there may be an underlying physical or cognitive condition. Consult with his/her physician to determine whether depression or dementia may be a contributing factor.

- Ms Sneha George M is a Counselling Psychologist, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai