September 3, 2021
Reading Time 9 min.

How to Deal with Irrational Elderly Parents Peacefully

"I don't know how to deal with irrational elderly parents. No matter how much I try to understand it, they always test my patience."

How often do you hear this from senior caregivers? 

Behavior changes are among the reasons that make caring for the elderly difficult. 

So today, we're talking about why it happens and how to deal with irrational elderly parents better. 

5 Common Elderly Behavioral Problems 

According to the US National Library of Medicine (PMC) - 90% of Dementia patients have shown behavioral problems early on.  

Some may show signs of hygiene neglect. Others show unexplainable anger outbursts.

Most of the time, these behavioral challenges can be difficult to deal with. Ask any caregiver and they’ll tell you this is true. 

It gets more challenging when you're dealing with your aging parents.

Let's take a look at the more common behavior challenges in seniors that caregivers have to face.

Hostility, Mood Swings, and Anger Outbursts

Joan takes care of her 67-year-old dad at home. 

Growing up, Joan and her dad were close. He was funny and smart. And he was patient with her when she made mistakes. 

But things started to change when Joan’s dad reached 60. 

He kept to himself and was hostile to everyone, including Joan and her kids. 

He snarled at people and often burst out in anger. 

Sometimes he would be in a good mood. But the next, he would stay in a corner crying. 

Joan felt like she was walking on eggshells every day. And it’s putting a strain on her relationships especially with her husband. 

She tries her best to understand her dad. But it gets to her even if she tries to be patient. 

Hygiene Concerns 

Carol has been living with her 80-year-old grandmother for six years. 

She wanted to make ends meet. And her grandmother offered her a place to stay to help her save. 

It’s been easy living with her grandmother. But recently, she’s been noticing some changes with her grandmother’s hygiene. 

Sometimes she forgets to flush the toilet. And she’s also been soiling her bed at night. 

She also refuses to take a bath for days and doesn’t change her clothes. 

When Carol asks about it, her grandmother just shrugs and says “I hate baths.”

She also complains about the water being too cold despite the water heater being on. She also says she feels the chills in her bones. 

Carol has no choice but to clean up after her grandmother. 

She couldn’t understand why her grandmother is acting this way. And it’s causing a rift between her and other members of the family. 

Some even blame Carol for neglecting their grandmother. But truth is, Carol has been doing her best to help her grandmother maintain her hygiene. 

Offensive language and Inappropriate Comments 

Michelle has been a caregiver to her 95-year-old father at home. 

He was a firecracker when he was younger. And he was a lady magnet too. 

Once in a while, she hires a part-time caregiver to take care of her father during her alone time. 

Sometimes she has other family members come over especially during the pandemic. 

One day one of the part-time caregivers came to Michelle to tell her about her dad’s misdemeanor. 

The caregiver told Michelle that her father was touching her inappropriately. She also said he was flirting with her and asking her distasteful questions. 

Michelle decided to confront her dad about this. But he just laughed it off and then said, “What can I say, she’s a beautiful lady.” 

Paranoia, Obsessive and Compulsive Behaviors 

Catherine’s mother, Hue, didn’t have an easy life. 

At 9 years old, Hue fled Vietnam on a boat with her family to avoid the war. 

Their family was well-off in Saigon. Hue’s father was a farm owner and had farmers till the land for him. 

But all was lost when the war broke. The worse part was, their cousins stole from them and grabbed the land. 

Catherine heard this story multiple times growing up. And now that her mother is getting older, she’s growing more paranoid than ever. 

She would keep money in unlikely places. She would call out the names of family members saying they’re stealing from her. 

She would even have unlikely rituals like lighting fires to keep bad spirits away. 

Catherine tries her best to keep her mother at peace. But it always backfires on her. 

One time, Hue almost burned the house down while doing one of her rituals. She explains to Catherine that it was her way to keep her family safe from the dark spirits. 

It’s been frustrating for Catherine. And no matter what she says, she couldn’t convince her mom that she is safe from harm.  

Abusive Behaviors 

How to deal with irrational elderly parents

Susan had a complicated relationship with her father. 

He was an alcoholic and physically abusive to her mother. He was also emotionally abusive to her and her brother. 

Because of this, Susan ran away from home as a teenager. She tried her best to support herself and worked through college. 

Good thing her hard work paid off. She now has a family of her own and is living a good life. 

One day a social worker called her and told her about her father’s predicament. 

He suffered from diabetes and had to have both feet amputated. He was now in a wheelchair and need of help. 

Susan’s mother already passed and her brother is in prison. They also didn’t have any other living family members.  

So she took her father in while she was looking for other living arrangement options for him. 

Unfortunately, Susan’s father didn’t change one bit. He might be weaker because of his illness. But his tongue was still as sharp as ever. 

He would talk about how ungrateful she was. He would also go on guilt trips and talk about how evil she was for abandoning him. 

This behavior is causing fights between Susan and her husband. And as much as she’d like to kick him out, her conscience is still getting the best of her. 

These scenarios would be familiar to you if you’ve been a caregiver for some time. 

It’s painful and uncomfortable, especially if you’re taking care of a loved one. 

If it’s any comfort, there is a good explanation for why these behavior shifts happen. And we’ll be discussing that next. 

What Causes Personality Changes in the Elderly?

Behavioral changes are pretty common, especially in seniors. 

Age and illnesses bring a host of difficult emotions to the surface. Unfortunately, it’s the caregivers that bear the brunt of their anger and frustrations. 

They may sound like irrational parents with their unpredictability. But being aware of the causes can help you separate the person from the behavior. 

Here are some of the common reasons why these behavioral shifts happen. 

Unresolved Fears and Issues 

Not everyone is comfortable with sharing feelings or discussing the past. 

Back in the day, people weren’t expected to be open with their trauma. They tend to keep things bottled up and hidden. 

This is especially true for survivors of childhood sexual or physical abuse. 

Research shows that unresolved childhood trauma appears to be linked to exacerbated vulnerabilities. And these tendencies show during their senior years. 

Several long-term effects include depression, fear, guilt, anger, and poor interpersonal functioning. 

They are also prone to developing anxiety disorders and specific phobias. 

Here are some potential phobias they develop overtime: 

  • Panic disorders 
  • Social phobias 
  • PTSD 
  • OCD 
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorders 

Chronic grief, extreme stress, and other neurodegenerative disorders can trigger these responses. 

So it’s important to let your elders feel safe and secure as best as you can. 

Read more about how unresolved trauma affects behavior here


Medical interactions can also cause mood swings and irritability. And it’s more common than you think. 

A senior patient takes an average of 5 or more medications a day. This poses a huge risk of side effects and potentially dangerous drug interactions. 

This explains why they change so suddenly. It is also a reason why it can get too difficult to deal with irrational elderly parents. 

Since they’re growing older, their bodies function differently too. 

By age 65, our kidneys decrease function by 30%. Our hearts also get weaker and our water levels also lessen. 

This might translate to the bodies differently. 

Medications increase agitations, disinhibitions, and even confusion. And for some, it can also worsen dementia symptoms. 

Learn more about common medication problems in seniors here

Depression and Mental Health Issues 

Depression is a serious mood disorder that can affect the way a person feels, acts, and thinks. 

And it’s a common problem among older adults. 

Several types of depression include major depressive disorder and dysthymia. There’s also substance-related depression, like alcohol or pain medication. 

Common symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and anxiety. They also have difficulty sleeping. 

Eating disorders are also prevalent. 

When there is an imbalance, there will also be shifts in behaviors. And this is where you will need the help of experts. 

Seniors who are suffering from depression might need counseling or another medication. So if you see signs, it’s best to consult with doctors. 

Read more about senior depression here

Early-onset Dementia and other Neurological Problems 

Behavior shifts can be a sign of neurological problems in the elderly. 

Dementia is a term describing varied symptoms that affect a person’s cognitive functioning. This includes their ability to think, remember, and reason. 

Most patients suffer from memory loss and confusion. Some even find it difficult to engage and sustain conversations. 

Some also withdraw from society, even their loved ones. 

These emotions can be so overwhelming that it causes a major shift in one’s personality. 

This is also why they tend to be irritable and angry all the time. 

Here are some symptoms to watch out for in your aging parents

How to deal with irrational parents 

Here are some helpful ways to deal with irrational parents without overthinking or taking it personally. 

Set personal boundaries 

Sometimes our parents can be demanding and unreasonable. Add that to cultural beliefs and societal pressure and you’ve got a mix for disaster. 

That’s why it helps to set boundaries for yourself. If you feel like it’s too much, feel free to breathe and walk away. 

Share the responsibilities with other family members when you’re feeling out of it. 

Remember, it’s OK to prioritize yourself and your sanity.

Here’s how you can maintain self-care as a caregiver.

Don’t take it personally 

It’s more of them, not you. 

I know it’s easier said than done. But try to be as patient as you can with your aging parents. 

It’s not easy to grow old. All the pain and confusion can take their toll on anyone. 

So it’s best to try and understand what they’re going through. 

Don’t fall into the guilt trap 

Be direct and assertive when dealing with your parents. 

Some can be emotionally abusive and can be too much. But don’t let them take over. 

Your goal is to be as honest and direct as possible. Make it clear that while you understand their situation, you won’t tolerate abuse or manipulation. 

Look for support 

Sometimes the support you need can’t be found in the family. That’s why it’s important to find groups that go through the same situation. 

Find comfort with friends and people who go through the same thing. 

Healthcare practitioners like physical therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists can also lessen your load.  

It’s important to find people you trust and can provide a safe space for you to breathe. 

Here are some online groups that you can join for caregiver tips and support: 


Dealing with irrational parents can be heartbreaking and tiring. 

But you need to know that you’re not alone. 

You need to set personal boundaries and find the right support so you could lighten the load. 

Do you have questions about how to deal with irrational parents? Share them below.

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That's all for today.

Take care, keep mom safe and have a great day!


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