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Why Do The Elderly Get So Angry?

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

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
  • Depression

While it can be difficult to be the target of an outburst or parental anger, it can help you avoid taking it too personally if you can step into their shoes. Try to see what may be driving their behavior.

Let’s take a deeper look into a few sources of 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.

Lack Of Independence

Another reason your elderly parents may be so prone to anger is that they’re unhappy about having to give up their independence.

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 seniors 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.

Suffering Through Aches And Pains

Getting older can be painful. 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 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.

Grinning and bearing it through pain day after day 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 mood and/or behavioral changes ,which will make your mom or dad not who they usually are. 

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 the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Cognitive conditions such as these can rob a senior of their memory.

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.


Unfortunately, depression 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.

Sometimes making a few lifestyle changes can help ward off anger 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.


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

By understanding some of the effects of aging, you may become less resentful of mood swings in a 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.

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