How to Handle an Elderly Loved one’s Difficult Behavior (Part 1)

Let’s face it, if you are a caregiver for an elderly loved one, then you probably have faced the brunt of a few bad behavior days. As people age and their health diminish, their attitudes about life and their care often change drastically. This can cause your elderly loved ones to start exhibiting pretty bad behavior that may or may not be directed at you. While dealing with your loved one’s difficult behavior can be exhausting, you must remember that they are not being mean or obtuse to personally attack you. Instead, bad behavior often signals that they are not happy with their current position in life. Your loved one may need to talk to someone about their issues, may need a change in routine, or may even need a change in medications if they have Alzheimer’s disease or Dementia. Bad behavior can be a signal that something in your loved one’s life is not going so great. Depending on their health issues and their state of mind, bad behavior may be a sign that they are physically hurting and are not tolerating medications well. But, bad behavior could also simply signify that your loved one is upset and tired of being cared for. No matter its cause, you have to deal with the behaviors and try to move forward; otherwise you might go crazy trying to dodge all of the attitude being thrown at you. Keep reading to learn about some of the worst behaviors that elderly loved ones may exhibit, and look for part two of this series in which we discuss a few more bad behaviors.

Rage, Anger or Yelling

Unfortunately, if your elderly loved ones had anger issues as adults, then their inherent anger and irritability may be intensified as elderly individuals. Personality traits such as anger and irritability tend to intensify in very unpleasant ways as people grow older. Irritable adults often morph into rage-filled individuals as they grow older and the caregiver typically takes the brunt of all of their rage-filled demands and fits. To help your sanity and calm down their anger or rage, try to identify the cause of their anger. Most often, elderly individuals who are angry often are very distressed and may have a new health issue or a new symptom of one of their already established health issues. If your loved one’s anger continues for a long time, and it is a new behavior, then talk with their doctor. They may need to change medications or get a physical exam to determine if their behavior is due to a medical condition. Whenever your loved one does become angry, it is best if you do not take the anger personally. They are not trying to personally attack you, no matter how much it seems like they are. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of your job and try to ignore the negative, bad behaviors. If the anger becomes too much for you to handle then take a break. You can either hire another caregiver for a few days to a few weeks in order to take a short break, or hire a new, permanent caregiver and relinquish your job. The bad behavior may not become apparent in front of a stranger, and a new caregiver may not feel the same anger that you feel.


Stories of mental, physical and emotional abuse run rampant through caregiving websites and forums. Sometimes, elderly loved ones turn on their caregivers and abuse them. This does not occur very often, but when it does, it can be damaging to both the caregiver and the loved one. When elderly loved ones turn on their caregivers, they often are trying to vent frustrations they feel about their life, their illness, and their overall disposition. This does not excuse their behavior though, and as a caregiver, you should handle the abuse the first time it happens. If your loved one abuses you in any way, your first step should be to talk to them. Air your own frustrations to them and tell them how their behavior makes you feel. If that does not work, then continue to talk to them and overtime they may begin to understand. Also, it is a good idea to take a break from your caregiving job if your loved one begins abusing you. By leaving them in the hands of another qualified caregiver, they may begin to realize everything you did for them and want you back. If so, then you can return to their home on the condition that the abuse will stop. However, if the abuse is physical in nature, then you may need to bring the authorities or a counselor into the home to make it stop.

Not Showering

One of the most common bad behaviors that caregivers see is their elderly loved ones refusing to take care of their own personal hygiene. Whether they are refusing to shower, refusing to put on clean clothes, or refusing to brush their teeth, elderly loved ones can throw massive fits of defiance when it comes to personal hygiene routines. Both depression and the feeling of losing control may play a part in your loved one refusing to take care of themselves. As your loved one grows older, they may feel like they are losing control of their health and their lives, and one thing they can often control is their own hygiene. To eradicate the issue, the first step is to determine why they will not take care of their personal hygiene. Ask your loved one directly, and listen carefully to what they answer. If they are afraid of falling in the shower, then offer to buy a shower seat or a non-slip mat. If they are afraid of losing control, then offer them chances in which they can control other aspects of their life, like meal time or bed time. Try to fix their issue and coax them into taking a shower and restarting their personal hygiene routine. At first you may have to compromise and settle for them taking a shower every couple of days, or every other day. But, as time goes on, they should slip back into their normal routine.

Swearing, Offensive Languages or Inappropriate Comments

Growing older is not always fun, and many adults take their anger and their frustrations out on their caregivers by swearing or using offensive language. If this is the case, then an anger issue may be the problem. However, if your loved one is generally affable in nature and their use of offensive language is a new issue, then they may be at the start of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Both diseases cause cognitive decline that can affect your loved one’s ability to process language and act appropriately. They may become far more brazen then usual and have a whole new set of offensive words and phrases to use in everyday conversation. If this sounds familiar, then talk with their doctor about the issue. They may be able to prescribe medications for your loved one, or give you advice on how to deal with their offensive tirades.

In the next article (part 2) we will discuss more about bad behaviors in the elderly population in the second part of this article. Part two will discuss a few more bad behaviors that you may come across when caring for an elderly loved one.