How Do I Respond to a Negative Elderly Person?

Portrait of a Man, 80s

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As a person ages, she goes through many changes that can lead to negativity. In some cases, a sudden change in attitude can signal a health problem which may require medical intervention. It's not easy to deal with a negative or cranky elderly person, whether it's a parent, grandparent or acquaintance. Your natural instinct may be to respond with the same type of negativity, but a better approach is to respond calmly and with respect.

Identify the Source of Negativity

Figuring out why the senior feels negative can help you deal with the situation with empathy. It's easy to get offended or take the negativity personally, but the bad mood often has a deeper cause. Reasons a senior might be negative include physical pain, fear, boredom or a need for control. Some medications can cause mood changes, including negativity. Dementia is also a common cause of negativity, which can sometimes escalate to physical or verbal altercations. Dementia may cause seniors to be unaware that their behaviors are not acceptable.

Keep Yourself Calm

During interactions with a negative elderly person, it's important to keep your own emotions under control. Try to separate your emotions from the situation. Remind yourself that in most situations, the elderly person isn't attacking you personally even though it feels like it at the time.

Control your reaction to the situation. You may be feeling scared, angry or worried, but it's best to hide those feelings if possible. Keep your demeanor calm and controlled. You may need to step away for a minute to cool down.

Listen to the Person

Give the person a chance to express himself, even if it's in a negative way. Try to look beyond the negativity to figure out what's really happening. Putting yourself in the senior's shoes may help you keep your cool while dealing with the situation. For example, if you remind yourself that the person is recovering from a painful surgery, you may be a little more sympathetic. Keeping eye contact with the senior and letting him fully share his thoughts helps him feel respected and understood. If you can look past the negativity, you may be able to figure out a solution that helps ease the feelings.

Meet Needs

Sometimes meeting the senior's needs can help ease the negativity. If she is lashing out due to boredom, you might arrange for her to do more activities or bring her things she can do like puzzle books or crafts. For a senior who acts negatively out of fear, try to help her work through the situation causing fear.

Seek Medical Interventions

If the negativity stems from a health situation, advocate on behalf of the senior to get the medical attention he needs. Let doctors know about poorly managed pain, for example. If the senior suffers from anxiety, look for mental health care for him.

If the senior in your life suddenly exhibits a change in behavior, including negativity, seek an evaluation from a doctor to check for dementia. Sometimes changes in personality appear before memory problems. Many activities can help minimize the behavior, including exercise, music therapy, art therapy, pet therapy and social interactions.