10 Tips On How To Deal With Irrational Elderly Parents

Written By: William Rivers
Reviewed By: William Rivers
Published: February 14, 2022
Last updated: April 2, 2023

Dealing with aging parents is no easy feat, especially when they begin to act uncharacteristically or irrationally. You may often think to yourself, What to do when my elderly parents refuse help?” as the situation may be discomfiting and unfamiliar to you.

It may help to know that you are not alone. While it may be jarring to see such a drastic change in their behavior, there are several things you can do to ensure that they (and you) receive the necessary support. 

Keep reading for more advice on how to deal with stubborn aging parents.

Find Out If They Have Underlying Conditions

Dementia may be an underlying cause for the behavior and attitude of your elderly parents. Alzheimer’s, which is the most common type of dementia, affects an estimated 5.6 million individuals aged 65 and above in the US alone. Unfortunately, it is not curable – it is actually a progressive disease, and knowing this can put things into perspective with you. 

If your loved one is diagnosed with dementia, then you can take the practical steps to get the support you need, from proper medication to caregiver assistance.

Understand Where They’re Coming From

Empathy is an integral part of caregiving and dealing with elderly parents. While you may usually be quick to dismiss their behavior or assume what’s causing it at surface level, there may be more to it than you think.

Take time to determine if there are root causes behind their new behavior, whether it is a result of a condition or declining mental health. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and act the way you’d like to be treated.

Pick Your Battles

Irrational behavior can be hard to predict, so it is best if you do not turn everything into an argument. Doing so will end up frustrating both you and your parents. In many cases, they may not even respond well if you are constantly nagging or bothering them about doing certain things. 

As an alternative, zero in on the most important issues or problems that need to be addressed. Focus on things that directly affect their health and safety, and take minor issues in stride.

Choose Your Time Wisely

There is a time and place for everything. If you need to have a serious or important conversation, avoid doing so when either one of you is stressed or tired. Save these conversations for times when your parents are lucid, relaxed, or at ease. 

You should also base this on how you feel. Make sure that you are also level-headed and in a good headspace to converse rationally and patiently.

Do Not Blame Yourself

It’s easy for you to end up blaming yourself every time your parents lash out because of a certain trigger or whatnot. It’s tempting to fall back into the pattern of thinking of “If I had done x, then y wouldn’t have happened” but this is unhealthy and unproductive.

No matter how much you try to prevent bad things from happening, they may occur anyway. Channel your energy instead into learning from these mistakes and coming up with solutions.

Seek Advice From Others On The Same Boat

There is a good chance that you may know someone whose parents are going through the same thing, so do not hesitate to seek advice from them. This can help you feel less alone, but you can also get more ideas on solving common issues, with solutions that have been tried and tested.

Consequently, you can even form a support group with these people, and share advice and tips for caring for your elderly parents

Prioritize Feelings And Sensitivity

When your parents are behaving irrationally, it may be difficult to explain things to them rationally. Changes in their brain may alter the way that they understand things or grasp concepts, so it is best to prioritize feelings and sensitivity over logical explanations and conversations. 

Work on facilitating emotional connections between you and your parents, and enjoy the good moments that you have together. Sometimes it’s not even worth it to lose sweat over a silly argument when tensions are flared.

Treat Your Parents Like Adults

Although you may now be the caregiver, you should still treat your parents as adults. You should resist the urge to infantilize your parents and treat them like a child, as this may rob them of the little agency they feel like they have left. 

Continue to show them respect during your conversations and interactions. Empower your parents and make them feel like they still have a sense of control.

Accept The Situation For What It Is

While every once in a while you may be in denial of how your parents have regressed, this can unconsciously make you want to change what simply cannot be changed. Try to accept that this is the normal way life goes. 

Work with the situation you are given as this can help you focus on the present and what’s at stake right now, instead of what could have been.

Get Help For Yourself

Lastly, be sure to get help for yourself too. Caregiving can take a physical, mental, and emotional toll on you — especially if you are caring for a parent as you witness them declining. Don’t hesitate to search for avenues for support for yourself, whether through counseling, forums, or support groups.

Be sure to also take time to rest and reset so that you do not end up burning out from your caregiving responsibilities.

Caregiving is never easy, so take it one step at a time. Do you have any additional tips to add? Leave it in the comments section below! 

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William Rivers is an editor with a master’s degree in Human Services Counseling at Maine State University. He has more than 20 years of experience working in the senior healthcare industry.
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