Tips to Deal with a Controlling Aging Loved One

August 17, 2017

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Portrait of woman standing still in the middle of a street with cars passing by fast, screaming stressed and frustrated

As people age, it’s not uncommon for their personalities to change and for them to become more controlling.  It’s usually the result of medication, pain, the frustrations of having difficulty doing things that were once easy and changing family dynamics.  While it can be frustrating and even unpleasant at times to deal with, there are things you can do to make the situation better and more bearable.

Kurt Kazanowski MS, RN, CHE, has more than 30 years working with seniors, first as a nurse, and now in hospice and homecare. 

His advice for dealing with a controlling aging loved one:  

1. They want to control something. 

Everyone wants to feel they can control their own lives, but there comes a point when we all lose grip of it. Our independence slips away, and we need help for the simplest things. That can be a defeating concept. It is a challenging reality with which to come to terms. Be sensitive to this in your aging loved one. Being surrounded by support and understanding only makes it easier.

2. Medications can change personalities.

Keep in mind when your loved one began their medications. Take note of any personality changes within two weeks, one month and a few months span. If you notice the personality changes coincide with the new medication and not another variable, speak with their health care provider about options.

Medications manipulate the chemical balances in our brains, and when that occurs, our moods and behaviors can shift. Offer the idea of starting one medication at a time to see how your senior changes in accordance to the new meds. This way, it is easier to pinpoint which medication causes which side effects.

3. Pain can make people act out.

When you are not feeling well and your body is in pain, it can cause you to lash out at those around you. If your senior parent is doing this, offer to find them relief in the form of therapy or medication. Occupational therapy can be a great tool to overcome painful patterns of movement and seek some relief.

4. Consider family dynamics.

Was your aging loved one always in charge of the family? Did they always dictate how things were going to be done? They might still be trying to exude this power over the other family members. If you are a child and the primary caregiver, your parent might still be trying to act out these old dynamics.

Controlling behaviors are considered abuse. Try to talk with your parent about how their actions make you feel. It is not too late to do this, and as your dynamic changes to caregiver, it can be a good time for healing past wounds. 

5. Use positive reinforcement patterns.

Reward the positive behaviors of your loved one. Do not reward, or punish, the negative behaviors. Using reinforcement patterns is one method to motivate your controlling loved one to better actions. If they are becoming upset or angry, offer them kindness and suggest to discuss it. If they don’t respond respectfully, leave and tell them you will come back when it is a better time. It may sound harsh, but it is better than scolding them or getting upset yourself.

6. Talk, if they are willing. 

Sometimes your controlling parent or loved one lashes out to get attention, like small children. They want someone to give them some more attention and care. Ask them how you can help. Genuinely speak to them. Most importantly, listen to what they are saying. They may just want to vent their frustrations to someone that cares. We can all understand that.

7. Grant them the little victories.

For them to feel they still have control, let them make decisions when possible. If you are going out to eat as a family, let them select the restaurant. Ask their opinion about important life matters to include them in situations. Help them find a creative outlet so they can focus their controlling energy into projects. Knitting, painting or sewing are some good options that require creative choices for them to control themselves.

8. Bring in the backups.

If nothing else works, you do have other opportunities. Don’t fret. You need to set your boundaries with your loved one, and if they do not respect that after a point, you can seek other help for them. There are assisted living and nursing home options. That way, there is a professional caregiver that will deal with the daily tasks for them. You can then take the personal family member role and see them whenever you see fit.


Kurt Kazanowski is an author, speaker, coach and consultant in the areas of aging, hospice and home care. He is a native of Detroit, Michigan, and has over three decades of experience in the field of healthcare. He received his bachelor’s degree in nursing from Mercy College of Detroit and practiced as a public health nurse for many years. Today, Kurt is the owner of two successful personal care home health companies – Homewatch CareGivers in Michigan where he lives and First Home Care in Moscow, Russia.

Kurt is also the author of A Son’s Journey.

Written by Guest Author
The Caregiver Space accepts contributions from experts for The Caregiver's Toolbox and provides a platform for all caregivers in Caregiver Stories. Please read our author guidelines for more information and use our contact form to submit guest articles.

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14 Comments

  1. yeah, I think its part of the aging process…. no one wants to get old and unable to do for themselves. Makes them feel like they are losing control over everything. 🙁

    Reply
  2. Oh, this is an ongoing challenge. Between medications, dad’s cluster strokes, and how the government changes handling things for US Veterans, my job in protecting his quality of Life is always wobbling. Two things which helped me: getting his doctors on my side in helping tell him how things need to be handled, and if he decides to verbally fight me, they help me calm him down and support my ideas or brain storm with me. The second is his cousin, 2 years older than him, excellent health as in never been sick a day. He does his own version of hearing dad out, and backs me up. Dad’s current mentality is to follow what the men say more than his daughter. So yes, it saves a load of bickering if they tell him to trust me and they approve of my ideas, efforts, etc. Dad still has blow ups, especially now with me healing from major surgery, so we are terribly housebound. I don’t hide the battles with him, the best I can do is keep them short and have us both go into time out. Avoiding them or trying to hide them seem to be fuel to the bicker fire for him at this time. He’s been ecstatic when I picked up a mini fridge (just before surgery) for his drinks. He said he hated the idea I’m trying to convert his room into a bachelor’s pad, but since the fridge came and he could put in his drinks, and his stash of beer (he has one every 2 weeks), he’s been warming up more to the idea and having more input on how to spiff up his room. With my upcoming rehab, I’ve said – I need a training buddy! Dad, you are it! I’ve made him my walking buddy, shopping buddy, etc. It gives him a way to help me, while I’m making certain he keeps healthy and safe. Good luck to everyone else who has to handle this weird situation of figuring out how to help our ailing family members have some say in their lives!

    Reply
  3. All well and fine. Good comments. But this works in beginning stages. What the woman in this photo needs to do is scream into the dryer when it’s full of stuff or yell into a pillow. Doing this in the street is dangerous to her health. And then, who will need the caregiver?!

    Reply
  4. Yes. The more he feels he is losing control of his life the more he micromanages everyone and everything around him. I understand, but it drives me insane to be micromanaged

    Reply
    • The insane controlling cunt from hell that is my mother is off the charts toxic, manipulative, micromanaging and maddening. There is nothing that will change that beast short of her dying. Some people are beyond hope.

      Reply
  5. I did not have this problem, but I know that put me in a minority!

    Reply
  6. It was so hard, even with macular degeneration she wanted to retain control but knew she couldn’t. How I wish I had taken over earlier before she made such a mess of her papers. Got rid of important stuff, kept everything else.

    Reply
  7. Wish I knew how to do that!!

    Reply
  8. I did not have this problem with my mother, but I know it can be a very big issue.

    Reply
  9. Absolutely–it was the icing on my nervous-breakdown cake. But it is sooooo much better now that I have taken over everything.

    Reply
  10. Sometimes its best for everyone to walk away.

    Reply

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