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If you are a caregiver to an aging parent (mom or dad) and they are starting to be mean or acting bold and rude, you know how frustrating and hurtful this can be. Today I want to talk about how to cope when your elderly mother is mean.

So both my parents got dementia, mom rapidly moved into Alzheimer’s disease, dad died before that happened. A blessing in disguise I say. While mom was still at home and rather cognitive, she was mean.

At first her abusive behavior came on very randomly and not very often. It was a shock to all the family members. I’m sure I even gasped once or twice at some of the things she would say.

They were so not ‘mom like’.

None of us knew anything about this disease or how to handle mom. Little did I know then, there are support groups to help you deal with things like these. I had no clue.

Being a caregiver to older parents is the toughest job ever. I swear. For years our parents took care of us and now it’s our turn and it’s awkward, frustrating and sad to be honest.

Not only that, they really don’t want to listen to you. It can be super frustrating as you know what’s best for them and they’ll have no part in it. Oy!

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Find a Caregiver Support Group

I’m telling you right now, find a caregiver support group OR just get support from other family members if you can or even your best friend. You will need support. Trust me on that.

Taking care of elderly parents (especially when you have a negative elderly parent!!) is exhausting, frustrating and demanding. I’d like to tell you it’s rewarding but it won’t feel like that at all.

I know you want the best for your parents but you have to take care of yourself first.

Some of you probably have your own children and family issues to deal with on top of caring for your parents.

Caregiver burnout is a real thing and a thing you don’t want to experience. Don’t be stubborn and insist ‘I can do this on my own’ because you can’t. Well, wait, you probably can but it won’t be fun and you risk putting your own physical health and mental health in jeopardy so…

There’s that.

Talk to other family members and work out a caregiving schedule. Here are a few other things to do:

  • Look into hiring outside help
  • Hire a financial advisor to see if outside help is in the budget
  • Contact your local assisted living community group to see if they have volunteers
  • Talk to your parent’s friends to see if they will come for an hour or two each week to help
  • Have a discussion with your family and let them know how important it is to have everyone pitch in to help, even just a little

This is hard work and you can’t do it alone. Please don’t try.

Coping With a Mean Elderly Mother

If you’re sensitive, it’s gonna suck. There. I said it.

At first it will be very hard for you to deal with your elderly mother who is mean. I can’t tell you how many times I cried or got mad or even stormed out of the house. Yup. I did all that.

You have to remember you’re not dealing with the mom who raised you. Old age does a funny thing to people.

And if your mom has dementia or Alzheimers, you’re definitely dealing with a completely different person.

Not only that, all your family members may not be on board to help out either or they simply don’t live close enough to help.

You will face a lot of challenges that you have no experience dealing with. Patience will be your best friend.

At one point, we were dealing with mom who was starting Alzheimers and dad who was slipping into dementia and denial, both at the same time, in the same house with no help from anyone! Oooph.

But the main point I want to make here is this, when you’re dealing with your elderly mother who is mean please don’t take any of it personally. She’s not directing her anger right at you, but instead at the situation she’s in.

She’s Confused and Scared

Aging is scary. Losing your cognitive functions and realizing this is happening to you is scarier. Having your adult children and strangers care for you is scary.

Knowing you’re going to die soon is terrifying.

Can you see where I’m going with all this? Though your elderly mother is mean and hostile, she’s scared out of her tree and when we have fear, our emotions take over.

Sometimes that comes out in anger and hostility which is what’s happening with your mom. She’s dying. She knows that. You know that.

Imagine how that feels.

Put yourself in her shoes for one minute and imagine how it feels knowing you’re not only getting old, losing your memory but you’re dying too.

Pretty scary huh. That’s how she feels.

It’s like your whole life is being flashed right before your eyes. And you can’t stop it. You’re in a constant state of fear, confusion, anxiety, anger and so much more.

And no one around you can do anything to make it stop. They can only make you comfortable but that’s not what you want. You want to be 16 again or 25 or 35 or even 50.

You want to be anything but old and dying.

That’s how she feels. And her only way to express her feelings is by lashing out in anger. So with that said, remember, it’s got nothing to do with you and don’t take any of it personally.

I know that was a little deep and raw but I felt the need to write that out for you, no fluff no BS. Just so you can see it and read it and really let it sink in.

This is what’s happening your mom (or dad or whoever) and one day it will happen to you. Patience, compassion, kindness, empathy, love and grace should all be your best friends right now.

How to Cope When Your Elderly Mother is Mean

I want to go over a few different behaviors you may encounter with your elderly mother/parent. None of them easy. We’ll go over each of them as they all are part and parcel of your parent’s mean behavior.

First, we’ll discuss the difficult behavior and then I’ll share a tip on how to deal with it. Now while this article is about how to cope when your elderly mother is mean, please also take note that this can also help if it’s your dad, uncle, grandmother, whoever.

You get the idea. It’s not just for mom.

1 Angry, Mean, Hostile

When mom started doing this we were shocked. I did a little research and found out that as our parents get older and start losing their memory and their sanity, they get scared which leads to anger and hostility.

They are basically oversized toddlers with potty mouth and a bad temper.

Cognitive decline can cause aging adults to have sudden outbursts of anger. Symptoms of cognitive decline include memory loss and difficulty understanding basic information. Your loved one might become upset if he or she can’t recall a particular word or remember the name of a familiar place.

Source Home Care Assistance

How to deal with your elderly parent when they are angry, mean or hostile

The best thing is to take a minute and find out what’s going on around your mother at the moment she starts lashing out. Was it a trigger from the past or simply anger because she’s losing her memory.

Once you determine it, the best way to handle it is to just try to calm her down and let her know everything is ok and she’ll be fine. Reassurance is key to calming her down.

You can also quickly avert her attention to something totally different and maybe even a little happy.

Go outside in the sun or just to get some fresh air. Or you can try just turning on the TV and watching one of her favourite old sitcoms.

Remember she won’t be angry for long. These mood swings come in short bursts and then they’re gone. And never take anything personally!!

If calming her down is not working, and these outbursts are becoming more and more frequent, you should talk to her primary care doctor and see if there’s something more you can do to help her.

You may also look into getting some respite care as elderly people can sometimes treat strangers better than they do their own family members. I know weird, but it’s true.

2 Physical Abuse and Verbal Abuse of Caregivers or Family Members

My grandfather was a demon. We can laugh about it now but at the height of his dementia, he had a baseball bat and a shovel behind his front door and if you came knocking and he didn’t know you, you were greeted with either or, depending on his mood.

It’s no joke.

My father, oddly enough, was very abusive when we were growing up but at the height of his dementia he was almost loving. However, he did have the odd episode where you were sure he’d go off on someone with violence.

Thankfully that never happened but abuse is very much a part of dementia and Alzheimers and it can be very dangerous.

Physical abuse can be as small as a slap or as serious as a punch or a kick. Whatever it is, it must be controlled. While you can’t exactly explain to your parent that this behavior is unacceptable, you can still show them compassion and understanding.

Remember, you understand what they’re going through with all their personality changes, they don’t. It’s confusing to them. And scary.

How to deal with physical and verbal abuse

Make sure that their environment is safe. Keep sharp objects away from them, locked up, guns removed from the house, etc. You get the idea. While it’s impossible to ensure the entire house is totally safe, you can do your best to get the obvious ‘weapons’ removed.

I can’t tell you that a shoe won’t get thrown at you. Or maybe even a mug. That can happen. Sorry.

Contacting a caregiver expert or seeking professional help is the best course of action here. If you can maintain the safety of your elderly parent and the people in the household, it may be time to move your parent to an assisted living facility where they will have 24 hour care.

If this is the decision that is going to be made, you have to understand that the whole family may not agree with it and that’s ok. If you are the primary caregiver, it’s important for you to make decisions to ensure everyone’s safety.

3 Paranoid, Frantic/Anxious

You have to view dementia and Alzheimers as a mental illness and a common issue with mental health sufferers is anxiety, paranoia and being frantic or overly nervous. This will happen to your mom/parent and because it’s confusing, it can lead to anger.

Try to think about the last time you had a panic attack or anxiety attack, felt paranoid, frantic or whatever. Chances are you freaked out, probably screamed and/or cried and lashed out.

Your mom will do these things too. It’s all terrifying for her and we all know, when you’re angry/scared etc, you lash out at the ones you love, the ones who are closest to you.

How to deal with paranoia, anxiety, etc.

Let’s go back to that last time you had any of these issues. What did you do to try to control it? Personally, when I’m having an anxiety attack I practice breathing exercises. You can absolutely do the same with mom.

Try to catch her before she starts really freaking out.

Sit with her and do your best to calm her down. Listen to what she has to say (what is causing her anxiety at the moment) and let her know that she’s totally safe with you and nothing bad will happen to her.

You might really like this article from webmd where they share some tips on how to manage paranoia and anxiety in older adults.

Also make sure to take note of the frequency these episodes happen and discuss them at the next doctor’s appointment.

4 Poor Hygiene – Won’t Shower

Ooph. We had to deal with this with both my mom and dad, dad being 10 times worse than mom but what a nightmare.

Now I get that this article is about how to cope when your elderly mother is mean but I gotta talk about my dad for a minute here because he was way more defiant than mom.

Every now and then mom would put up a little fight and say things like this “Oh I had a shower yesterday and besides I didn’t do anything to make me sweat so I don’t stink. I’m fine. I don’t need to shower now”.

Now we knew this was untrue and she eventually went off to shower.

Dad on the other hand. oh.my.God. You get to the point where you just want to pick them up, throw them in the tub and hose them down it’s so frustrating!!!

Of course I didn’t do any of that but arguing with him was pointless. If you did try to argue he got mad. Really mad.

And all that frustration and anger really isn’t worth it.

How to deal when your mother/parent won’t shower

You should find out why they won’t shower or bathe. Ask them if they are afraid of maybe just self conscious of being naked in front of their adult children or whatever it is. Find out why.

Maybe they would prefer a personal support worker (personal care worker) come in and help them rather than family caregivers.

Maybe they have new fears of showering, falling, the water. It’s hard to say really but don’t insist on them showering if they really don’t want to.

This is a case where you really need to pick your battles carefully. At the end of the day, does it matter that mom didn’t shower? Most likely not.

As long as you put out clean clothes for her in the morning, and she stays clean, half the battle is won imo.

5 Refusing Outside Help (Professional Caregiver or In-Home Care)

Some of you could be dealing with difficult elderly parents who refuse outside help or don’t want strangers in the house taking care of them. I get that. Would you want strangers in your house showering you and telling you what to do?

Probably not.

You have to keep in mind that your parent is going through a loss of independence and that in itself is depressing and terrifying. Part of them knows they need help, the other part is in denial.

We were very fortunate that mom always loved having company and meeting new people and dad didn’t mind so much either so bringing new people into the house, even personal support workers, respite care, etc was a breeze.

It may not be for you. If you’ve brought a stranger home (a caregiver who isn’t family) and your elderly mother is mean to this person you’ll need to change your tactics.

How to deal with refusing outside help

Have a conversation with your mom and find out why they don’t like or don’t want a stranger in the house. Is it fear or something else? Maybe set up a meet up of the person outside the home so mom/dad can get to know them first.

Let them know you are going to have coffee/lunch with so and so and this person is going to help with their care. Explain to them that this person is a caregiving expert who is going to share tips and tricks for home care.

Hopefully your parent will see this is the right thing to do!

If your elderly mother is mean to this person again after the meet up you need to lay down some ground rules and let her know that caregiving is a full time job that you can’t do alone and it’s important to hire a professional to help.

Other Behavioral Problems to Watch For

While these other behavioral problems may not make your elderly mother mean, they may do that to you! Ha! Good times all around.

Here are a few other issues we had to deal with that maybe you are facing now too:

  • lying
  • hiding things
  • withdrawing
  • recalling trauma from the past (and sharing every last detail of it)
  • overeating/over drinking
  • getting mad at you for no reason
  • swearing (this was fun!)
  • night wandering

You will be the best judge of how to care for your elderly parent but when it is no longer safe to keep them at home please make arrangements for a long term care facility or live-in care you can trust and rely on.

You also have to remember that while you are desperately trying to provide the best care for your parent, you too are going through something as well.

This person raised you, took care of you, wiped away your tears, gave you away at your wedding…you get the idea. And now here we are. Taking care of them.

It’s emotionally draining and sad, even for you. It’s a lot to absorb to be honest. You may even need your own professional help during or after all this.

I’d love if you took a minute to check out the amazing people behind online-therapy.com. This is the only online therapy I recommend as I’ve used them and think they are the best.

Tips to Help Cope With an Elderly Parent Who is Mean

While this article is mostly based around a mean elderly mom, remember it applies to dad, grandma, aunt/uncle, all of them and any of them who are mean that you happen to be a caregiver for.

I think it’s really important to understand that as your parents get older they are going through so many scary changes that are hard to adjust to. And don’t forget, if your older parent is starting dementia or Alzheimers, well that’s a whole other ball game and it’s not fun.

Remember that these people once:

  • held good jobs,
  • raised a family,
  • were able to cook,
  • take care of their own bank account and
  • so much more.

All that’s gone now. They can’t even dress themselves. Imagine how that feels.

They are fully aware that their physical health is declining and mental health problems are starting. They know. And it’s terrifying. I really can’t stress that enough.

So please, be patient, kind, compassionate and loving. That’s all they need and want right now to get them to their last days. Wouldn’t you want the same?

xo iva xo

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2 Comments

  1. I love the way you write! You are honest and real. My mom is not hard to take care of, as she’s still walking and very active, but she’s in a very negative state, she’s living with negativity and victimization all the time, and is very hard for my emotional health. All I want to achieve is forget all about her negativity and be able to give her my love and compassion to make her(and my) life more pleasant. Thanks for your wonderful article.

    1. Awe I’m sorry your mom is like that. That’s hard to take, really. I think all you can do is give her love and some self care for YOU!

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