Difficult Behaviors in Aging Adults and What to do


September 8, 2022
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As a family caregiver, you may have witnessed difficult behaviors in the aging adults you care for.

Difficult Behaviors in Aging Adults and What to do

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Changes in a person’s usual behavior and routine can indicate a change in health and mental status. Be observant and think about what the behavior may mean. Take some practical steps:

  • Really listen to his/her concerns. For example, stop cleaning the house or driving or preparing a meal and sit down, make eye contact, and really listen.
  • Ask your family member what he/she needs and work with him/her to come close to meeting their needs.
  • If your older relative is no longer able to do something that he wants to do, help him find alternatives.
  • Set some healthy limits for yourself. Tell your family member what you can and cannot do based on your skills and your other time, work, and family commitments.
  • Talk to siblings and other family members and ask for their help.
  • Set up a Job Jar or “To Do” list. Talk to your older relative and ask him/her to make a list of things that need to be done.
  • Ask for help from other family members, church volunteers, neighbors, or other people who have offered to help.

Difficult Behaviors in Aging Adults

These are some examples of Difficult Behaviors in Aging Adults you might encounter:

  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Combativeness, aggressiveness
  • Restlessness and wandering
  • Mood swings
  • Hallucinations
  • Mistrust
  • Over-controlling behavior
  • Critical and demanding behavior

Possible Causes of Difficult Behaviors in Aging Adults and How to Cope

Look for the cause of the difficult behavior, including major changes and losses:

  • Pain
    May include undiagnosed physical illness such as constipation, urinary tract infections, dehydration, etc. Watch for signs of pain or illness and seek medical care.
  • Medication side effect
    Ask the doctor to change the dosage or switch to another medication
  • Lack of proper nutrition
    Is it related to a physical illness or does the food does not taste good? Make sure dentures are properly fitted. If cooking is a problem, check with the Area Agency on Aging about congregate meals in senior centers or home-delivered meals through Meals on Wheels.
  • Uncomfortable environment
    Is it too cold, hot, bright, loud, etc? Adjust the temperature, dim lights, close blinds, turn volume down.
  • Fatigue
    Provide an atmosphere and opportunity for rest. Ask the doctor if medication might be appropriate.
  • Sensory loss
    Visual problems or hearing loss may result in hearing or seeing things. Insufficient lighting may play tricks. Unfamiliar noises or changes in the surrounding may lead to fear. Provide corrective lenses or hearing aids as needed.
  • Lack of activity
    Encourage physical activity as tolerated.
  • Feelings of powerlessness and loss of control
    Provide assistive devices and allow the elder to make choices as appropriate.
  • Confusion or memory Loss
    Maintain a calm environment and reassure the person. Use memory aids.
  • Be consistent
    Keep household furnishings and objects in the same place. Do things the same way at the same time each day. When changes must be made, prepare and support the elder.

Source: This post is an excerpt from our educational page titled, Behavior and Emotions of Aging.

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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