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Dealing With Negative Elderly Parents

Explore several reasons why your elderly parent is negative. Seniorly can help with suggestions on how to combat negative behaviors from your parents.

By Lydia Bruno · Updated Jan 24, 2023

It is a challenge to watch our parents age. Many factors can start to take away their independence, their health, and sometimes their cognitive functions and memory. Adult children watch their parents change as they get older and it can be very heartbreaking. 

While all of this is happening you may find yourself in a difficult position when your parents are negative about life. Whether it is due to health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive problems, depression, disease, or just their personality, it is just harder to deal with difficult parents and their bad behavior. Trying to find the root cause to their behavior is the best option.

Negative elderly parents can be a real challenge to deal with. Many children find themselves frustrated and angry as they try to deal with their parent’s negativity, but there are ways that you can learn to cope. We will discuss some of the most common negative behaviors from elderly parents and how to handle them effectively so you can maintain a healthy relationship with your family members. Some of the negative behaviors can include:

  • Being overly critical of others
  • Nagging
  • Passive/Aggressive behavior
  • Using abusive language
  • Throwing temper tantrums
  • Range, anger, and yelling
  • Inappropriate comments

Pain management

There may be things going on that are causing your loved one pain and they may not even realize what it is. Chronic pain is very common among the elderly. There are many factors such as arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or even recent surgery that may cause chronic pain. Pain can lead to sleep loss, depression, and decreased activity. All of these factors can lead to frustration and a feeling of loss of independence. 

Make sure your loved one sees a doctor for any ailments that they are having. Getting an explanation and a pain management plan may be all they need to help with their mood. 

UTI and behavioral changes

It’s important to be aware of the signs that your loved one might have a urinary tract infection (UTI). While many people know about physical symptoms like pain and burning during urination, atypical behavioral and personality changes are also common among older individuals who experience sudden shifts in mood or behavior due to interrelated medical conditions such as dementia. If you notice any unusual patterns with these types of behaviors—such as being irritable all day long without reason then it would make sense for family caregivers to seek out medical advice right away so they can get treatment on time before things get any worse.

Set boundaries

The best way to deal with a negative parent is to set boundaries  Explain to your parents that you will not tolerate being criticized and that they need to respect your feelings. If they continue to criticize you, calmly explain that you will not talk to them if they are going to be critical.

Negative elderly parents can also be very demanding. They may constantly ask for favors or money, and it can be hard to say no. However, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for their happiness or well-being: you can choose how much you see or interact with them and how involved you are in their life. You need to be firm, but kind when saying no to their demands. If it is too difficult to say no, you can try making compromises. Positive changes may occur when you can come to an agreement.

Anxiety, depression, and boredom

Anxiety and depression can all cause a change in mood swings and negative emotions for your loved one. Older people are at a greater risk of depression if they already have chronic conditions. Depression is not a normal part of aging and a doctor should be consulted if your loved one has depression symptoms. Anxiety is another mental health problem that can affect up to 20 percent of older adults. If your elderly loved one is showing any symptoms of mental illness like anxiety or depression or any other mental health issues, talk to your senior parents about it and consult your parent’s doctor. 

Being connected to others is a basic need. If your parents don’t have an active lifestyle they may become bitter with boredom. Try your best to get them involved in activities with others at social events so they can make new friends. 

Chronic Complainers

It is possible that your aging loved one has always been abrasive with a negative attitude. They may not even realize how their attitude affects others, especially when you go out of the way for them to do things for them. Instead of being grateful for the help, they like to complain about the favor you may have done for them. If they were negative people before aging it may be unlikely that their personality will change at this point. Primary caregivers should consider this when making care decisions as it can be difficult to stay positive while caring for a negative person. 

Forgetfulness in aging parents 

Negative elderly individuals can also become very forgetful and this may make them lash out in anger as they try to deal with the frustration of not being able to remember things. It is important for everyone else around them and the whole family to help each other by being patient and understanding. If you can, try to keep things as organized as possible for your parents so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Memory loss can be a very frightening experience. 

Life is changing

Finally, it is important to remember that negative elderly parents are going through a lot of changes in their life. They may be feeling scared or alone and this can lead to them being more critical and difficult to deal with. Try not to take it personally, but rather see their behavior as an expression of their insecurity and try your best to be understanding. Giving your loved one the best quality of life is the best gift you can give. 

Works Consulted: 

“Anxiety and Older Adults: Overcoming Worry and Fear.” Geriatric Mental Health Foundation. Accessed December 27,

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written by:
Lydia Bruno

Lydia Bruno

Copywriter for Seniorly, with 5+ years experience in professional caregiving and senior housing

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