Unexpected Changes in the Elderly: (Is this Normal?)
In my last post we discussed the neglectful changes in hygienic practice that one all-too-often may notice in his or her aging parent(s), the possible reasons behind these changes, and ways to go about remedying the situation to the most satisfactory degree for all involved.
Today I’ll continue with my series, “Top Four Most Unexpected Behavioral Changes in the Elderly,” identifying and discussing our second change: anger.
Getting older isn’t easy. We slow down, we often get ill, and all too often, we become dependent on others. For many, this is upsetting, and so they take it out on those around them. Additionally, there are changes in testosterone levels in men, which leads to that infamous “grouchy old man” syndrome. And let’s not forget that medications—newly prescribed and/or poorly interacting—may be playing a role in how Mom or Dad is now reacting to the daily grind. While certain prescribed medications can have tremendous implications on anyone’s attitude, the elderly tend to be on many long-term prescriptions, and may be forgetful about keeping an accurate list for each specialist. Have there been any recent changes in prescriptions? Older folks really do have a tendency to become grumpy as they age, and the reasons are as varied as the days are long. If you’re the main caretaker for your aging parent, keeping a daily journal (even making notes in your regular planner works fine) is crucial in figuring out patterns of behavior and whether or not we need to worry. (If you’re not the main caretaker, I’d still recommend keeping a journal of your interactions with your parent(s). You can call often and ask where Mom is going, how her doctor appointment was, how she’s been feeling, etc.)
Does Dad become grumpier at family and social gatherings, for example? Perhaps he’s feeling nostalgic about his life. Maybe something far simpler is at play: has he had a recent hearing check? Large social gatherings tend to be frustrating when Mom and Dad can’t make out the conversation streams around them. Or, perhaps Dad is feeling lonely or isolated after having seen a few of his close friends die. Encouraging him to join a new social group could help. See if there’s a local seniors center nearby, or look online for a meetup of people who share his same interests and who would be welcoming. Spending time alone with your father, talking one on one, could help you determine what those interests are. Maybe he is wishing he had spent more time at church or synagogue, maybe he wishes he’d seen more of the country, or spent more time fishing, etc. It’s not too late for these things! Of course, if this type of agitation becomes anything more than that, you need to take your parent to a doctor as soon as possible. Hitting, biting, excessive cursing, etc.—these are beyond the norm.
Spending this time hearing what your aging parent has to say, even if you must put up with the grumpiness, might help your family unlock the door to a simple solution for making everyone’s life a lot more upbeat. I am here to help you ask the right questions if you don’t know where to begin. Please reach out to me.
All the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson Ph.D.