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Why Is My Elderly Mother So Mean? How To Deal With Your Aging Parents

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We received an email recently from someone who was struggling to understand and cope with her elderly mother’s behavior. She wrote:

My elderly mother has always been a kind and loving person. However, in recent years, she has become increasingly short-tempered and argumentative. I’m not sure what has caused this change, but it’s really taking a toll on our relationship.

I have to ask myself, is it something that I’m doing wrong? Am I not meeting her needs in some way? Or is this just a natural part of aging for an older adult?

As her primary caregiver, I’ve tried talking to her about it, but she just gets angry and insists that there’s nothing wrong. I’m starting to feel like I’m walking on eggshells around her, and I don’t know how much longer I can take it.

I’ve tried to be patient and understand that her negative emotions are just a symptom of her overall decline and old age. But it’s hard to take when she’s constantly snapping at me. I just want to help her and make her life easier, but it feels like she’s pushing me away.

Has anyone else experienced this? Any advice on how to deal with it? I’d appreciate any input.” Thanks, Catherine.

It’s normal to feel frustrated when your elderly mother is mean to you, especially if you feel like you’re doing the right thing.

There are many adult children and family caregivers who are dealing with difficult behavior changes in their elderly parents that are confusing and difficult to cope with.

There are a number of possible explanations for why an elderly person might become more mean.

  • It could be a sign of cognitive decline, or a reaction to medications.
  • Or, it could simply be that your mother is going through a tough time in her life and doesn’t know how to express herself in a healthy way.
  • It could be a sign that she’s not getting the personal care she needs. Many older adults need more attention than they used to. Especially if they are not feeling well or depressed.
  • It’s possible that your mother is angry because she feels powerless and helpless. As we age, we can feel like our lives are spiraling out of control and we have no say in what happens to us. This can be especially true if your mother is living in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
  • It’s also possible that your mother is simply going through a phase. We all have good days and bad days, and sometimes our moods can swing wildly for no apparent reason.

Growing old and helpless is humiliating and painful for the aged. They are liable to become impatient with themselves for no longer being able to do what had once been so easy for them. Often enough the anger and shame they feel are directed at those who care for them.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to try to understand where your mother is coming from. This can be difficult, especially if she’s not very communicative or if she has cognitive issues.

But it’s important to remember that she’s probably not intentionally trying to hurt you.

If you’re struggling to deal with your mother’s personality changes, it might be helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor. They can help you manage your own emotions and find ways to cope with your mother’s behavior.

And of course, your mother should also be checked by a doctor to rule out any possible medical causes for her changes in behavior.

Why Is My Mother Suddenly Acting So Mean?

Let’s start this discussion with some background information.

  • Has your mother always exhibited aggressive behavior? Maybe her verbal abuse is now more exaggerated?
  • Has she begun taking some new medication(s)?
  • Has she recently been going through some medical problems?
  • Has she recently begun home care services? Any change in lifestyle can be difficult for an older adult.
  • Is there some change in her life recently? A divorce, a death, moving to a new house, etc.
  • Is she showing signs of memory loss or dementia or has she been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?

There are medical and psychological issues that could contribute to your mother’s suddenly mean behavior. It’s important to try to get to the bottom of what might be causing her problems.

Losing one’s good health can put most anyone in a foul mood.

If you’re wondering why your mother is acting so differently, try to have an open and honest conversation with her.

See if she’s willing to talk about what’s going on and see if there’s anything you can do to help her.

Remember, even though she might be acting out of character, she still loves you and is probably just trying to cope the best way she knows how.

10 Reasons Why An Elderly Adult Becomes Mean

There are certainly many reasons why any older person could become meaner and agitated but here’s a list of the 10 most common ones.

  1. Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can cause changes in mood and behavior.
  2. Depression is common in older adults, and can lead to irritability and anger.
  3. Isolation and loneliness can make people withdraw and become resentful.
  4. Grief can cause profound sadness, which can manifest as anger or bitterness.
  5. Financial stress can lead to anxiety and frustration.
  6. Chronic pain can make people short-tempered and irritable.
  7. Certain medications can cause side effects that include moodiness and aggression.
  8. Poor nutrition can lead to feelings of weakness and irritability.
  9. Sleep deprivation can cause crankiness and irrational anger.
  10. Un-diagnosed or untreated mental health conditions can cause people to act out in strange or unexpected ways.

Whatever the underlying cause, it’s important to show your mother patience and compassion. She may not be able to help the way she’s acting, but with your support, she’ll hopefully be able to get through this tough time.

Is Anger A Symptom Of Dementia?

One of the behavior changes you may be seeing is an escalated level of anger. And yes, it can certainly be a symptom of dementia.

Again, I want to repeat that it’s important to remember that your loved one isn’t angry with you. The dementia is causing changes in their brain that they can’t control.

They may not even be aware that they’re behaving differently.

The person with dementia may say something that is entirely inappropriate and off-the wall, but it’s not because they want to be mean or hurtful.

Instead their lack of impulse control causes them do say whatever comes into mind without filtering what will come out first before speaking more nicely instead!

There are a few things you can do to help diffuse the situation:

  • Try to stay calm yourself. I know it’s easier said than done, but it will help your loved one to see that you’re not upset.
  • Try to understand what might be causing the anger. Is there something that’s triggering it? If so, see if you can remove the trigger.
  • Redirect their attention to something else. This could be a favorite activity or something that’s calming, like looking at pictures together.
  • Offer reassurance and love. Let them know that you understand and that you’re there for them.

It’s also important to talk to your loved one’s doctor. They may be able to recommend medication or other treatments to help manage the anger.

People with dementia often act in ways that are very different from their “old self,” and these changes can be hard for family and friends to deal with. Behavior changes for many reasons. In dementia, it is usually because the person is losing neurons (cells) in parts of the brain. The behavior changes you see often depend on which part of the brain is losing cells.

UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences

I know it can be tough to see your loved one suddenly acting so differently. But by staying calm and being there for them, you can help them through this difficult time.

How To Deal With Elderly Mother Who Is Mean Due To Depression

It’s difficult to see a loved one suffer from depression, especially when that person is your elderly mother. While it’s natural to want to find ways to help her feel better, it’s also important to respect her wishes and boundaries.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with an elderly mother who is struggling with depression.

1. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that depression is a real illness. Just like any other illness, it can be difficult to deal with and understand. If your elderly mother is exhibiting signs of depression, it’s best to talk to her doctor or a mental health professional.

2. It’s also important to be patient. Depression can be a slow, gradual process. It may take some time for your mother to start feeling better.

3. In the meantime, try to be understanding and supportive. Offer to help out around the house or with errands. Just being there for her can make a big difference.

4. Finally, don’t take her behavior personally. Remember that depression is an illness, not a character flaw. She may not be able to help the way she’s acting.

If you’re worried about your elderly mother’s mental health, the best thing to do is talk to her doctor or a mental health professional. They can help you understand what’s going on and come up with a plan to help her feel better.

Behavior Changes In Elderly Mother Due To Loneliness

It’s not unusual for elderly mothers to become more withdrawn, cranky, or even mean as they age. Often, this is due to loneliness. As our loved ones get older, they may lose friends or family members. They may also become less able to get out and about like they used to. This can lead to feelings of isolation and despair.

There are a few things you can do to help your elderly mother if you think loneliness is behind her behavior changes:

  • Encourage her to get out and socialize. This could mean joining a club or taking part in activities at a local community center.
  • Help her stay connected to friends and family. This could involve setting up regular Skype or Facetime calls, organizing get-togethers, or sending care packages.
  • If she has a best friend, contact him/her for some help, if they are able to provide it. A weekly lunch meeting or game of cards can be a beneficial event for both of them.
  • Check out some local senior centers in your area and encourage or bring your elderly mother there.
  • Make sure she has a support system in place. This might include hiring a home health aide to help with chores and errands or arranging for transportation to appointments.

If you’re concerned about your elderly mother’s behavior, don’t hesitate to reach out to her doctor or a professional for help. It’s important to make sure she’s getting the support and care she needs.

How To Help Your Elderly Mother Through Grief

I know a thing or two about debilitating bereavement. When my husband passed away suddenly I fell into a deep depression. Seven years later I still struggle with grief and the loss.

When an elderly parent experiences the death of a spouse or close friend or the death of a pet, it can be devastating. If your mother is grieving, there are things you can do to help her through this difficult time.

  • Be patient and understanding. It’s important to give your mother time to grieve. Don’t try to hurry her through the process or tell her how she should feel.
  • Encourage her to express her feelings. It’s healthy for grieving people to express their emotions. Encourage your mother to talk about her feelings, either with you or with a professional counselor.
  • Help her stay active and engaged. It’s important for grieving people to stay active and engaged in life. Help your mother find activities that she enjoys and that make her feel connected to other people.
  • Seek some local support groups for those suffering through grief. I can tell you from personal experience that there’s almost nothing better than simply talking to others when dealing with severe grief.

While the journey through grief is different for every person, there are five stages of grief that a person typically experiences. These stages are not meant to package a very raw emotion into a box, but rather to help people frame and identify emotions through the grieving process. They are not linear and not every person will go through every stage.

Be Aware Of The Stages Of Grief

There are 5 stages of grief and knowing what your elderly mother may be going through can help you to help her.

Stage 1 – Denial

This is the stage where people try to protect themselves from the pain by denying that the loss has occurred. Your mother may say things like “She’s not really gone,” or “I can’t believe she’s gone.

Stage 2 – Anger

During this stage, people are overwhelmed with emotions and may lash out in anger. Your mother may say things like “It’s not fair,” or “Why did this happen to me?

Stage 3 – Bargaining

In this stage, people try to bargain with God or fate in an attempt to change the outcome. Your mother may say things like “If I had only done X, then she would still be here.

Stage 4 – Depression

During this stage, people become more withdrawn and may seem hopeless. Your mother may say things like “What’s the point?” or “I can’t go on without her.

Stage 5 – Acceptance

This is the final stage, where people come to terms with the loss and start to rebuild their lives. Your mother may say things like “I’m trying to be strong for her,” or “I know she’s in a better place.

Most people do not go through these stages in a linear fashion, and may move back and forth between stages as they grieve.

These are just a few things you can do to help your mother through this difficult time. If you’re concerned about her mental health, talk to her doctor or a professional counselor. They can assess her situation and provide additional support.

Beyond medication and counseling, there are many wonderful books that you both can read and work through that may help. – See them here.

Angry Behavior Due To Financial Stress

I keep telling my friends and family that it takes a lot of money to grow old so save as much as you possibly can.

But how can you help an elderly mother who is dealing with issues related to lack of money?

  • First, try to have a conversation with her about her finances and see if she is open to discussing the subject.
  • If she is, see if you can come up with a budget that will help her make ends meet.
  • Work with her (if she will let you) to manage her bank account and other investments and finances.
  • Invest some time with an accountant and/or financial advisor. We did that with our mother (against her wishes) but it turned out to be a great thing.
  • There are also government programs that can help low-income seniors with their living expenses.

Talk to your mother’s accountant and/or financial planner (hopefully she has these) about her situation and see if he or she can recommend any resources that might be of help.

Chronic Pain Can Cause Most Anyone To Become Mean

If your elderly mother is in pain, that could be the root cause of her meanness. Chronic pain can make even the sweetest person become irritable and snappish.

Has your mother been to see her doctor recently? If not, it might be a good idea to make an appointment for her.

Tips on how to help your elderly mother if she is dealing with chronic pain.

1.Encourage her to see her doctor regularly and make sure she is taking any prescribed medications as directed.

2. Help her to find ways to manage her pain, such as through relaxation techniques, massage, or physical therapy.

3. Make sure she is eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise, as both can help to reduce pain levels.

4. Be understanding and patient with her, as chronic pain can be extremely frustrating and difficult to deal with.

5. Offer to help her with tasks or errands that may be difficult for her to do due to her pain.

If you are concerned about your elderly mother’s well-being, it is important to talk to her about her pain and see if there is anything you can do to help. If her pain is severe or chronic, she may need to see her doctor for further treatment. In the meantime, try to be understanding and supportive, and offer to help her with anything that may be difficult for her to do.

Some Medications Can Change Someone’s Behavior

If your elderly mother has suddenly begun a behavior pattern of being angry and mean and just downright difficult to deal with AND she has also begun a new medication or several medications, they could be the cause of this change in her personality.

Drugs can cause aggression by altering the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and serotonin. Specific drugs associated with aggression include alcohol, anabolic steroids, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, opiates, and hallucinogens.

National Library Of Medicine

It’s not uncommon for certain medications to cause side effects that include changes in mood or behavior. If you suspect her medications are the cause, talk to her doctor about it and see if there are any other options that might be better for her.

You Are What You Eat (And What You Aren’t Eating)

Many older adults neglect their nutrition, especially if they are living alone. I know that it’s much easier to just open a can of ready made soup and eat that for dinner than to chop and cut and cook anything just for myself.

If you suspect (or know) that your elderly mother is not eating a healthy diet, this could certainly be contributing to her difficult personality.

Tips To Help An Elderly Person Eat Healthier

1. Make sure she has easy access to healthy food options. This means stocking her pantry and fridge with healthy snacks and meals that she can easily prepare.

2. Help her plan her meals ahead of time. This can make it easier for her to make healthy choices and stick to her diet.

3. Encourage her to eat with others. Social eating can help reduce stress and improve overall mood, both of which can make it easier to eat healthy.

4. Offer to cook for her or help her prepare meals. This way you can ensure that she is eating healthy food that is also tasty.

5. Talk to her about her goals for eating healthy. This can help motivate her to make changes in her diet.

Lack Of Sleep Can Contribute To Elderly Parents Being Mean

As we age, our sleep patterns often change. older parents may find that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep through the night. This can lead to fatigue and irritability during the day. If your elderly parent is not getting enough sleep, it may be contributing to their crankiness.

There are a number of ways that you can help your elderly parent get a better night’s sleep.

1. Make sure their bedroom is comfortable and conducive to sleep. This means keeping the room dark, quiet, and cool.

2. Encourage them to establish a regular bedtime routine including winding down for 30 minutes before sleep.

3. Help them create an environment that promotes relaxation by removing electronics from the bedroom and adding calming elements like soft music or a diffuser with soothing essential oils.

Read more about essential oils for seniors here.

4. Ensure they are getting adequate exercise during the day as this can help promote better sleep at night.

5. Talk to their doctor about any medications they may be taking that could be affecting their sleep or mood.

6. Offer emotional support and understanding as they adjust to the changes that come with aging.

It can be difficult to watch a loved one suffer from meanness, especially if it’s someone as close as your elderly mother. But there are steps you can take to help her manage her mood and get the support she needs.

Undiagnosed or Existing Psychological Condition Can Change Her Behavior

If your elderly mother has been diagnosed with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or she is clinically depressed or suffers from severe anxiety, any of these mental health issues (and many more) can certainly contribute to her changing behavior.

Also, any medication that she may be on for these issues may need to be replaced or perhaps they are interacting inappropriately with another medication she may be taking.

Now, if she is undiagnosed, that’s another story.

My mother suffered with severe anxiety for decades without a diagnosis because she refused to admit it and refused to discuss it with her doctor. This left her isolated, resentful and angry.

If she had simply taken the steps to take some medication and speak with a therapist, she could have had the opportunity to spend the last few decades of her life with some love and happiness.

So, I urge you to do all that you can (I know it’s difficult) to get your elderly mother to see a doctor or a psychiatrist or a gerontologist for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

What Do You Do When Your Elderly Parent Becomes Mean?

It can be difficult to deal with an elderly parent who becomes mean and/or angry. It’s normal for a caregiver to feel frustrated and angry.

Whatever the cause, it’s important that you try to understand what might be behind the behavior and how to best deal with it.

If your elderly parent becomes mean, there are a few things you can do to try to help them.

  • First, you should try to talk to them about what’s going on and why they might be feeling this way.
  • It’s also important to make sure they’re getting proper medical care and aren’t experiencing any pain or other health problems.
  • If possible, you should try to help them stay socially active and engaged in activities they enjoy.
  • Give them some positive attention. I know this can be difficult, especially if your parent is being mean, but sometimes a touch or a hug can make a difference and diffuse some anger. As Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN points out, “When you can, show up and just be present, even if you think they don’t appreciate you. The last part of our parents’ lives is the remaining opportunity we have to make a difference. That difference might be for us as much as for them.”
  • Consider joining support groups for you and for her to help you both deal with the changes that are happening.
  • You may want to consider getting some respite care through the help from a professional caregiver.
  • And finally, you should be prepared to deal with the possibility that their behavior may worsen over time.

The benefits for family caregivers are well documented: “Decades of research show that social support helps people cope,” says psychologist and AARP caregiving expert Barry J. Jacobs. “Caregivers often can’t speak openly with family members about their emotional reactions, and a support group provides a relative degree of anonymity.

If you’re not sure how to deal with your elderly parent’s mean behavior, it’s important to seek out professional help. A geriatrician or other type of doctor can help you understand what might be causing their behavior and how to best deal with it.

They can also put you in touch with resources that can help you and your family cope with the situation.


First step is always the hardest. You are trying to do something new and different, and it can be tough. But, if you keep at it, eventually you will get there. Just remember to take your time and be patient with yourself.

And, of course, don’t forget to ask for help when you need it. There are plenty of resources available to you, so don’t be afraid to use them.

It’s difficult to say why your elderly mother is acting this way without knowing more about her specific situation. It could be that she’s experiencing some cognitive decline due to aging, which can cause changes in mood and behavior.

Or, she may be dealing with unresolved issues from her past that are causing her to act out in negative ways.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to try to understand where she’s coming from and to be patient with her. Ultimately, her meanness may just be a cry for help.

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