Why Your Elderly Parents Might Be Petty and Demanding
Someone actually found our blog by searching Google with that question. You can just imagine her frustration and desperation! My heart certainly goes out to her. It’s a good question, and I don’t think she is alone. Many adult children caregivers experience the pettiness and demands of elderly parents, as do professional caregivers.
If you are asking this question, perhaps your parents are petty and demanding. In general, however, I would have to say that just because people are elderly or parents, or elderly parents, does not mean that they will necessarily be petty and/or demanding. From my experience, when elderly folks are petty or demanding, there is usually a good reason. Listed below are some reasons why elderly people may be petty or demanding.
1. They have always been that way! Some people are by nature petty and demanding. It might be their personality, so to speak. If this is the case with your parents, it is not realistic to expect that they will change now that they are older. In fact, research shows that how people handle adversity and difficulties in their younger years does not change much, if at all, as they age.
2. They have a mental illness. Some researchers estimate that 15 to 25 percent of elderly people in the U.S. suffer from significant symptoms of mental illness, most commonly dementia, delirium, and depression. If they have a history of mental illness, they are more likely to suffer from mental health problems later in life. People with mental illness have dysfunctional ways of thinking, perceiving situations, and relating to others. Concerns in this regard should, of course, be thoroughly discussed and evaluated by a mental health professional.
3. They are not feeling well or are living with chronic pain. For those living day to day not feeling well or with chronic pain, being reasonable with those around them becomes difficult and sometimes even impossible. And, unfortunately, those closest to the suffering person are often the ones who get the brunt of the difficult behaviors. Make sure your loved one sees a physician and is totally honest with the physician about what is going on so that the underlying problem can be addressed. Try to find a way to stay on top of the pain with medications or in other ways.
4. They are not getting enough sleep. Most of us cannot function at our best when we are sleep deprived. If your elderly parent is sleep deprived, this would be a reason to consult with a physician. There are many sleep aids on the market which are tremendously helpful to many people. Decreasing caffeine intake, getting fresh air and exercise, and refraining from napping during the day may make for better sleep at night.
5. Anger is one stage of the grieving process. It is imperative to remember that when dealing with aging parents, they are indeed facing significant grief and loss issues. Their “fears” are often facts. For instance, they really are prone to illness and injury, they really are frequent victims of crime, they really do have less strength, they really are more isolated, and they really are more vulnerable. For seniors, life can get to be one loss after another, and the grief process never ends. Changes in health, living situations, financial resources, and the increasing reliance on others are just a few examples of loss your elderly parents may be grieving. Some people get stuck in the anger phase of grief.
6. Our expectations are too high. I once heard that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. Could it be that you are expecting too much of your elderly parents? It’s easy to view our parents as strong, competent, and independent if that is how we have known them to be. In reality, they may no longer be what they once were. In that case, we need to adjust our expectations.
7. Loss of Control. If our elderly parents feel like they have no control over the bigger issues in their lives, they may try to maintain control over the little things. “Why did you get me StarKist tuna? You know I wanted Chicken of the Sea!” “I never hear from you” (even though you call to check in every other day). “You need to re-vacuum the floor. You missed a spot over there!” There are countless other examples, and I’m sure you can think of some!
Emotions affect behavior and actions. If you can have a heart-to-heart talk with your elderly parents and they can express their feelings about their situation to you, they may not need to act out any longer. Some families are able to do this, and unfortunately, some are not. If you are one of those families who are not able to have this type of conversation, perhaps a social worker, a geriatric case manager, or your family physician could help you to facilitate this discussion.
Remember, the only people we can change are ourselves! If it’s not possible for our parents to change, it’s a good idea to seek the support we need to take care of ourselves.
Julie Ellingson, LSW
February 28, 2012