When your elderly mother becomes belligerent, you are bound to have an emotional reaction. It is important to stay calm and understand the complex dynamics involved. As your mother ages, you might find yourself parenting your parent. As challenging as this new role is, your elderly mother is likely to find it even more difficult. Some elderly parents become depressed. Others lash out in anger. If you respond appropriately to your mother's belligerence, you can gain control of this heartbreaking situation.
Stay calm. If you can respond to her hostility in an unemotional, low-key fashion, she may be more likely to calm down. Understand the reason behind the belligerence. Try to see that the anger is coming from her personal frustrations. Don't take it personally or argue with her.
If her anger arises out of fear, reassure her. For example, if she is awaiting the results of medical tests or will soon have surgery, tell her what to expect. Caregivers sometimes feel it best to spare elderly relatives the details. But she may become more frustrated if she believes you have been hiding something. Try an open and honest approach.
If she is upset about something you said, change the subject. Try to distract her. Focus on something pleasant. Reminisce about past experiences you know she enjoyed.
Put on music. Quiet soothing tunes, especially music that conjures fond memories, can have a soothing effect.
If your mother is verbally abusive, leave the room -- if it is safe to do so. Tell her you cannot remain if she continues to shout. Merrily Orsini, who holds a master's degree in social work and focuses on geriatric care, recommends you greet her cheerfully when you return to the room after about five minutes. Do not refer to the earlier outburst. Start a new conversation.
Look for patterns in your mother's behavior. If you can recognize the things that upset her, you will be able to avoid them or respond effectively. For example, helping her get ready for a shower might cause agitation. If so, it may be best to stop what you are doing and engage in an alternate activity.
Consult her physician. Especially if the belligerence is a relatively new phenomenon and wasn't always part of her personality, medication might be helpful.
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- Don't forget to take care of yourself. If you are your mother's main caregiver, the stress can take a toll on your health. Get your siblings to share the burden so you can have a break.
Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.