Menu Close

Why Do The Elderly Get So Angry?

Share This Article

We get it, sometimes you can be a little surprised at the behavior of your senior parents. You thought they would soften with old age, but if anything, they’ve gotten angrier as the years have gone by. What is causing this anger in them? Is this a behavior you are seeing on a regular basis?

The elderly may get angry for several reasons. Among these are:

  • Realizing their own mortality
  • Lack of independence
  • Suffering with aches and pains
  • Medication side effects
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Depression or other mental illness

You may notice that your parent gets upset over little things or nothing at all. The first step family members must take is to try to understand what the cause(s) may be and seeking professional help if needed, can help you to get through this time.

While it can be difficult for family members to be the target of emotional outbursts or abusive behavior, it can help you avoid taking it too personally if you can step into their shoes. It’s important for family caregivers to try to see what may be driving the aggressive behavior in their aging parent.

When negative emotions last for a long time and are maintained even when no longer appropriate, disorders such as chronic depression or anxiety ensue.

National Library of Medicine

Of course, there could certainly be a variety of reasons that are causing mood changes in your senior loved ones. And there may not be any specific warning sign to let you know that an angry outburst is about to happen.

Let’s take a deeper look into a few sources of what may be causing these senior outbursts.

Realizing Their Own Mortality

It’s never easy to admit you’re not invincible and won’t be around forever. Your senior parent may have denied their mortality to a point, but as the years have caught up with them, that’s getting harder to do.

This can induce anxiety and/or depression that makes them more likely to lash out at you and others.

Sometimes the death of a close friend, family member or even a pet can bring out fears and frustrations surrounding their own mortality.

Speaking with a trained counselor can be an important thing to do to help your elderly parent learn how to begin dealing with the issue of their own mortality.

Lack Of Independence

Another reason your elderly parents may be displaying aggressive outbursts is that they’re unhappy about having to give up their independence not to mention difficulties they may have with daily routine tasks.

Think about it – they have either lived on their own or with your other parent or a step-parent for years, but nowadays, they may struggle to get out of bed.

Sometimes elderly individuals have problems dressing themselves, cooking, or doing other activities throughout their day, so they need more help. 

This is not only frustrating, it can be a source of embarrassment as well. 

In my dad’s case, he had to surrender his driver’s license, which bothered him immensely. He was still talking about it almost right up until the day he passed away, about 15 months later.

Although it may be difficult for older people to accept, a professional caregiver may be the best thing for someone who has problems with daily tasks. And the respite care could give family caregivers a break from the difficulties of caring for an older parent.

Suffering Through Aches And Pains

Getting older can be painful and filled with health problems. Your senior parent’s joints, muscles, and bones aren’t as flexible as they used to be. In all probability, they likely don’t wake up without feeling sore. Then, as the day goes on, their pain probably increases.

This is especially true if they are dealing with complications from pressure ulcers – which can be very painful.

I know my mom suffered with chronic pain from arthritis in her hips and hands for the last years of her life. She couldn’t sleep well because of it and it made activities painful and, thus, less enjoyable.

In addition to these types of muscle and joint pain, many older adults often have to deal with issues such as a urinary tract infection.

Grinning and bearing it through pain day after day and dealing with poor health can wear on anybody, making them cranky. 

Medication Side Effects

In some instances, your elderly parent’s behavior may not necessarily be of their own doing. One example of that is if they’re on a host of medications.

Some medications can have side effects that can cause personality changes, mood and/or behavioral changes ,which will make your mom or dad not who they usually are. 

Any sudden changes in a senior’s behavior are a cause for concern. It may point to an adverse reaction to a medication or an underlying medical issue, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), unmanaged pain or poor sleep.

It’s a good idea to report these types of changes and any other reactions you may notice as a result of medications to your physician. Oftentimes, elderly people will not question their doctors, so a family member may have to.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s 

Another situation in which your senior parent’s behavior may gradually change – but not of their own volition – is due to cognitive impairment from the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive conditions such as these can cause memory loss, judgement and reasoning.

In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association says, “Aggressive behaviors may be verbal or physical. They can occur suddenly, with no apparent reason, or result from a frustrating situation. While aggression can be hard to cope with, understanding that the person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is not acting this way on purpose can help.”

Your parent may find themselves getting upset with themselves for not being able to remember things that once came easily to them. Then they take that out on others.

They may not even remember who you are each time you talk, thus treating you in ways they don’t intend. 

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends checking to be sure to check into the physical, environmental, and communication factors that can contribute to anger:

  • Physical pain or discomfort – are they tired, thirsty, hungry, have an infection they can’t communicate (it is common to have undiagnosed urinary tract or other infections, according to the Association).
  • Environment – loud noises, repetitive noises, or clutter can make someone frustrated, which they may express as anger or aggression. They may also feel unsafe if they aren’t sure of where they are or who is with them.
  • Communication – be sure to keep stories and instructions simple. Too many choices, complicated questions or repeatedly correcting someone with a cognitive condition can result in anger. Choose your battles – it doesn’t matter if Aunt Sally had a parakeet but your mom says she had a Pekinese.

Depression or Other Mental Illness

Unfortunately, depression and mental illness is more common in seniors that we’d like to think.

According to WebMD, “Late-life depression affects about 6 million Americans ages 65 and older. But only 10% receive treatment for depression.”

We also know that depression affects older adults differently. For one thing, depression may happen in conjunction with a disability or an illness.

The US National Library of Medicine’s website reports that, “In older adults, life changes can increase the risk for depression or make existing depression worse. Some of these changes are:

  • A move from home, such as to a retirement facility
  • Chronic illness or pain
  • Children moving away
  • Spouse or close friends passing away
  • Loss of independence (for example, problems getting around or caring for oneself, or loss of driving privileges)”

Furthermore, the Medline Plus website notes that, “Depression can also be related to a physical illness, such as:

  • Thyroid disorders
  • Parkinson disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Stroke
  • Dementia (such as Alzheimer disease)

Overuse of alcohol or certain medicines (such as sleep aids) can make depression worse.”

Today, many seniors live alone and the lack of social interaction can contribute to depression.

Other mental illnesses that are very common amongst older adults include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse

Sometimes making a few lifestyle changes can help ward off anger , anxiety and depression.

  • increasing social interaction,
  • getting plenty of physical exercise and sleep,
  • and / or spending time doing hobbies or activities they love can help reduce angry outbursts.

Seeking professional help for these issues is important not only for the elder adult but for their family as well. Whether it’s individual therapy and/or joining a support group, the help is always there for the taking.


As they saying goes, getting older isn’t for wimps. Many things can contribute to anger and outbursts in older individuals.

If older children and caregivers can learn to understand some of the effects of aging, they may become less resentful of mood swings in their senior loved one.

In addition, if you uncover a physical reason for their anger, you may be able to get them the necessary help that could make their later years happier.

Related Articles

How To Deal With Abusive Elderly Parents – 8 Tips For Caregivers

When To Intervene With Elderly Parents

What Causes Caregiver Burnout?

Keeping Seniors Safe Online [New Guide]

Sign Up For Our
Weekly Newsletter!

Filled with…

Article of the week
Latest published posts
Recall notices

Click Here To Subscribe