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Senior Health

Contentious elderly mother



My mother (85 yrs. old) has become terribly difficult to spend time with. Occasionally, she is happy and laughing; however, most of the time, she is critical of most everything I do (taking care of myself, my husband, my children, buying groceries, driving, being involved in church work, talking with friends, not taking her with me everywhere I go, & on & on). (I am her 63 yrs. old daughter) She refuses to see that anything is of her own doing, but blames everyone else for her problems. I try, in a loving way, asking her what is going on, but she just blames me for "starting it". She will be so nasty one second and the next, she`s as sweet as honey, bringing baked goods to me. It`s such an emotional rollercoaster. Can you help me? Thank you! Incidentally, this isn`t anything new in her behavior, it`s been going on for years.


Your note indicates that although your mother is contentious, there is no significant change in her behavior as she ages. It is a challenge to cope with our loved ones as they grow older while  we attempt to help them to the best of our ability. It sounds as if there might be a change in the coping patterns you have used over the years as you have managed interactions with your mother. Perhaps something has changed for you as you indicate concern about your mother's behavior. If your mother belongs to a faith-based community  or has a confidant she trusts, it is sometimes helpful to work through those individuals to ensure her needs are met. Experience with older people and families has indicated that this approach is effective for some older people and families who are challenged in interactions with older parents.

It sounds like you may find help for your situation by talking to others or reading about those who are experiencing similar situations. It would be helpful to contact your area agency on aging (usually in the local phone book) to ask about referrals to agencies and individuals who are helpful in connecting family members to professionals for assistance in advising family members on how to manage contentious situations.

If you have been experiencing this behavior for years, your mother's behavior as she ages will probably not change significantly. As we grow older, sometimes our coping with situations and behaviors changes and we may need some help in managing our reactions to behaviors that we were able to manage when we were younger. If you are an internet user, you may find some online resources as well by searching "dealing with with aging parents". Many websites with helpful information exist. A book recommendation: "You and Your Aging Parents", Amazon.com, may also be helpful.

Hopefully, this information will be of some assistance to you. Perhaps talking to someone in your faith-based community or professionals who assist children of aging parents will provide some help and support for you as you deal with these behaviors and other aging issues that your mother may experience.

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati