How do I respond to a negative elderly person?

Written by c.k. wren
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How do I respond to a negative elderly person?
There are effective ways you can respond to an elderly person's negativity. (Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

The life of an elderly person can be frustrating, particularly as they are less able to function as well as they used to. Pride, discomfort or in some cases, dementia can cause them to lash out at their caretakers. Responding to an elderly person's negativity requires patience and understanding even when outbursts seem unreasonable or childish. There are some steps you can follow to maintain a good relationship with the elderly person in your life.

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  1. 1

    Determine whether simple empathy or sympathy are called for. The elderly person in question may just need a friendly gesture or a hug, if appropriate, to help get in a better mood.

  2. 2

    Give validation first instead of solutions or arguments. They may just need to vent about whatever is bothering them. Once you validate, you can then offer a solution, such as saying "it must be frustrating to have to go to physiotherapy so many times a week, what if we went out for lunch together first to get your mind off of it?"

  3. 3

    Do not become an enabler. Although it is important to validate and sympathise with an elderly person, you do not want to shape their behaviour by always responding positively to negative behaviour. If they continue to be negative after attempts at validation and attention redirection, let them know you will be happy to talk to them again once they have found some positive things to say.

  4. 4

    Require respect for yourselves and those around you whether it is coworkers or other family members. Do not react positively to demands, yelling or insults. Remind the elderly person that you will respond when they can talk to you respectfully.

  5. 5

    Keep your temper. Lashing back at someone who is already being negative and unreasonable is not going to be helpful. If you can't control your temper, walk away to cool down before you attempt to discuss the appropriate way to communicate.

  6. 6

    Be compassionate. Imagine how it must feel to be a self sufficient adult who now has to rely on others for almost everything. Keep in mind that some behaviour is a result of the natural progression of age and deterioration and may not be their character.

Tips and warnings

  • Erratic or unusual behaviour is one of the first signs of dementia, and memory loss can be a sign of Alzheimer's disease in elderly people. Keep an eye out for this kind of behaviour and alert their doctor or main caretaker if you have concerns.

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