How To Deal With Irrational Elderly Parents

Knowing how to deal with irrational elderly parents, isn’t something you’ll know instantly. It is also incredibly upsetting, to see those closest to you struggling so much. But with a calm and positive attitude, you’ll be able to keep from escalating the situation.

How to handle an elderly parent’s bad behaviour

Caring for an elderly parent is tough enough but it’s made even tougher when the person you are caring for is abusive towards you. But don’t despair, you are not alone. It is incredibly normal, and there is a plethora of information out there to help you.

Psychotherapist Amy Lewis Bear, MS has written about this extensively. Below are excerpts from her article published on PsychologyToday, that we hope are incredibly relevant to you.

Here are some tips on how to deal with abusive elderly parents:

  1. Share what you are going through with others
  2. Accept that your parent(s) aren’t going to change who they are
  3. Find community resources that can help you
  4. Engage using positive language with your parents
  5. Check-in with yourself – know your limitations on what you can handle
  6. Avoid arguing and retaliating with your parents
  7. Recognize the causes and reasons behind your parents’ abusive behaviour
  8. Embrace and be grateful for the good things in your life

Share What You’re Going Through

One of the most important lessons is to share your thoughts and feelings with as many people as you can, who will listen. Share your frustration with family and other confidants such as doctors, religious leaders, and friends and engage their help. 

Caregivers are at risk for social isolation, anxiety and depression, even more so when caring for an abusive parent. So let your feelings out, and share what you’re going through with the people you trust.

At the time of writing, there are also a number of Facebook forums, that provide a relatively safe space to share your frustrations and receive advice and support. They are useful, even if you are just a spectator:

Accept They May Not Change

Every single one of us has faults. No one is perfect. Accepting your parents for who they are and accepting the fact that they likely won’t change. Will go a long way in helping you to cope with their behaviour.

The truth of the matter is that you have to change how you interact with your elderly loved one. Changing how you react to their bad behaviour may actually help to reduce that specific behaviour.

When caregivers don’t react to abuse, there is a higher probability that abusers will change. This is because their tactics aren’t as successful. However, don’t be surprised if parents initially try to gain back control with harsh reactions to you removing yourself from their influence.

Find Community Resources

There are MANY resources available to caregivers these days – I encourage you to take advantage of them:

  • Your friends and family are the first place to start – see if you can schedule a time for them to come help you and give you some time away.
  • Your church or other organization you belong to – is another area to look into. The truth is, most people want to help – they just don’t know how to help. So give them an assignment, ask for something. It could be that they take turns bringing you a meal every Wednesday night or spending time with your senior loved one Sunday morning or doing some shopping for you every now and then or simply just calling you every other day to check-in and see how you are doing.
  • Social media programs like Facebook – offer support groups that you can join. These are great to vent and get recommendations from others in the same situation. It’s not as good as one-on-one conversations but it’s a good addition to venting to your friends and family.
  • Professional support groups and organizations like the Eldercare Locator – who can connect you to services in your area that may be able to help you.
  • Hospice – another great professional support group that many caregivers tend to forget. Don’t fall into the trap thinking that Hospice is ONLY for those who are immediately dying. There are many wonderful support services that this program can provide you with for a very long time so do yourself a favour and give them a call to find out how they can assist you.

Engage With Positive Language

This can be very difficult at times. To remain calm and positive when being demeaned/abused while caring for someone can hurt. But, it’s important to try and use positive language.

When a parent is abusive, don’t escalate the interaction by arguing and retaliating. Stay in your own emotional circle of loving family members and supportive friends. Participating in unproductive dialogue will only make the situation worse. So it’s good to steer clear of anything that could make the situation worse.

Check-In With Yourself

Be Aware And Acknowledge Your Limitations. Basically, be honest with yourself. Are you capable of managing your parents’ care emotionally, physically and Financially?

Being a caregiver is an extremely difficult job and it’s not something that anyone should do alone. You need and deserve help and it’s important that you accept it when it’s offered. Not only for your sake, but for your elderly parent’s as well.

The NHS has some fantastic support services, so get over what is left of the stigma and talk to your GP.

Avoid Arguing And Retaliating

Of course, you can’t possibly avoid every single argument but you want to avoid them as much as possible. After all, most arguments don’t really resolve anything, except it makes everyone involved angrier and more frustrated with each other.

Recognise The Causes

There are many factors that contribute to someone’s behaviour and understanding that (and possibly trying to speak with them about it) may help everyone. Abuse tends to be a family disease that is handed down through generations until someone decides to stop it by getting help.

Embrace The Good Things

Being grateful for things like my pets, the roof over my head, food in the fridge, my work, my clients, my friends and family can make you feel much better about your day. No matter how bad the day is (and we all have incredibly bad days every now and then) you can always find at least 5 things to be grateful for each day!

Embrace your life and your own family. Don’t neglect yourself or other family members by spending too much time and energy caring for your parent. Undermining relationships with your loved ones to take care of a parent can cause harmful long-term effects.


If you need further help with delivering care whilst living with elderly parents, you can see our full blog about Living With Elderly Parents. You can also give us a call on 0203 369 3624 if you need any further advice.

Author: James

I founded and manage PrimeCarers, a Platform that connects Private Clients with Private Carers near them.