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All Things Health Team
Written by All Things Health Team

Reviewed by Doreen Kee

12 Approaches to Manage Difficult Elderly Parents

Published | 7 min read

Dealing with difficult elderly parents who are also demanding your care and assistance? Here are some tips on how to manage the relationship and set boundaries.

Unhappy senior woman placing her hand on her forehead

In most Asian societies such as Malaysia, there has become an expectation for the children to eventually care for their elderly parents. There is a concept called filial piety which does not only cover family values, but the social order at large. However, conflicts may arise when elderly parents turn aggressive or resistant to advise. In this article, we will explore tips on how to manage stress without affecting your relationship with them negatively in the long run.


As the age expectancy increases along with changing society demographics (divorces, non-marriages and fewer children living with their parents), this becomes increasingly pressuring for children to fulfil the idea of filial piety. It is often emotionally difficult to consider a care home as well. Thus, the children become their elderly parents’ caregivers. However, conflicts arise when they may make demands and requests beyond one’s capabilities.

Why Do The Elderly Get Difficult?

Many people display aggressive or changed behaviour in later life. This is likely due to changes in cognitive impairment. While studies are few, it is confirmed that environmental and medical factors are known to cause older adults to be more disposed to aggression. Even healthy adults can display aggressive behaviour indirectly. As a result, they may harm themselves or others in the long run if this aggression is not dealt with.

In addition, ageing can also be a worrisome life factor to deal with. If they have any medical conditions or fall risk, this can affect their quality of life. Then, there may be greater demands due to their needs. Other factors could be boredom, medication side effects and chronic pain.

As a family caregiver, you may be experiencing burnout or frustrations if you are experiencing the following scenes:

  • Frequent calls which have not been the norm
  • Increase of stress, especially when your parents ask after you
  • Parents that neglect your boundaries
  • Caregiving which inadvertently affects your own family or work life

Learn more about caregiver burnout and practical tips on how to mitigate the condition.

Tips on Dealing with Difficult Parents

There is no need to despair if your ageing parents are difficult to deal with. It may be tough to love and commit when the people you are caring for are not cooperative or reciprocating your good will. We have listed some tips on dealing with difficult parents.

Tip #1: Establish what kind of care your parents wish to have

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, even as they age or experience ailments. For a parent who needs to rely on their children or other forms of support may be an emotionally-charged affair. As such, they may feel helpless and irritated. Therefore, come to an understanding that not all outbursts are directed at you. However, to create a better environment, try to establish what kind of care your parents wish to have. For instance, are they looking into companionship, care for their illness (if any) or something else altogether?

Tip #2: Treat them as adults

Some adults have poorer cognitive function as they age, but it is important to treat them as adults. They may lack finesse in expressing themselves, but in the end it is important to honour your parents as much as you can. Not all children have good relationships with their parents which may make this difficult. However, it is necessary to try. Prepare your heart to hear them out, listening and assessing the situation at hand without reacting. Extend grace when they are being cranky or angry.

Tip #3: Consider a change in the environment

Perhaps your parents have been difficult enough that you did not consider changing the environment. Nonetheless, this is able to uplift their mood and add a new activity that everyone can enjoy together. For example, being cooped up at home or in a space for treatment or daily life can be agitating. Therefore, arrange for something that they may enjoy, whether it is a simple lunch activity, window shopping and more. This may free their minds from internal stresses as well.

Tip #4: Have a support system

Being the primary caregiver for your elderly parents is a challenge. It can also be viewed as a time to bond and learn more about each other, but sometimes it can get upsetting. Unpleasant feelings can arise from a parent’s dependency and demands. As such, surround yourselves with others who can help, empathise or hear you out when the going gets tough.

Tip #5: Refrain from judging

Hurtful speech may be a slip of the tongue if there is a conflict with your parents. Yet, avoid criticising them for things they can no longer do properly. This can hurt their feelings and possibly make them feel alienated. It is better to observe and question respectfully instead of making assumptions about their abilities.

Tip #6: Remain calm

As your parent’s caregiver, it may alarm and distress you should there be new symptoms or challenges. These feelings may also be present in your parents as they may feel their lives are on a decline. Share your concerns about these changes but remain firm in giving them support. Change may be scary but what is most important is to face it headstrong and provide support and understanding for one another.

Tip #7: Involve them in decisions

This may seem counterproductive, but involving your parents in decisions can empower them. Ask open-ended questions that require their input, rather than only imposing your opinion at them. By giving them choices and ideas, they are able to reflect on their situation and take charge as well.

Tip #8: Enlist the help of other family members

Perhaps you have been designated as the caregiver for your parents, but this does not mean that you cannot engage with your siblings (if you have any). Share your concerns or that which others can help with, be it a day off or otherwise. Most importantly, everyone should see eye to eye on the main issues. 

Are you the primary caregiver in your family who manages most of the duties? Here are some tips for family members to come together and share caregiving responsibilties to take the best care of your loved one.

Tip #9: Explain the consequences

Your parents may be difficult in the sense of desire to retain their independence and mobility. However, it is important to let them know the possible consequences of their actions. For example, if they are not well enough to drive adequately, this may result in a road accident that affects others too. Or in other cases, a fall may lead to a steeper decline in life quality. These words should not be preached but you can try to address your concerns calmly, treating them as an adult. 

Tip #10: Understanding the motives behind their behaviour

When your parents act aggressively, it may help to understand the why behind their behaviour. Not all actions have reasons behind them, but most would. They may be afraid of change, be it going to home care or regular doctor appointments. Anxiousness may cripple their outlook on life. However, if the situation gets abusive or harmful, seek to address the situation before it worsens. 

Relocating our parents or grandparents from house to house is a common care arrangement among siblings. While it seems more ideal to many as opposed to nursing homes, frequent relocation could cause stress and anxiety to both parties of the family which could result in aggressive behaviour.

Tip #11: Do not blame yourself if something goes amiss

Despite difficulties and conflicts, it is easy to blame yourself if something bad happens. This may come especially if you get tired of caring for them or allow them some autonomy for decision-making. When bad things happen, you cannot control or undo them. Instead, remain on standby and jump in to help when you are in a position to do so.

Tip #12: Communicate your boundaries

Unconditional care and love are expected by most people, but challenging to practise. Each person’s limitations vary and may come into conflict. Setting your boundaries, be it on phone calls, emergencies, or extend of care, can improve your own well-being in the long run. This helps you and your parents to avoid long-term resentment due to disappointment and mismatched expectations. 

Other Solutions: Hire A Caregiver

Homage is a personal healthcare solution that connects caregivers, nurses and therapists with seniors who need on-demand holistic home care in their homes, allowing them to recover and age with grace, control and dignity.

Download the app now to find out more and start booking quality care for your loved one!



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