While many older adults focus on the positive; activities they can still enjoy and the relationships that endure, sometimes seniors can become negative and even angry. And with the growing list of aches and pains associated with aging, it can be hard not to begin conversations itemizing “what’s wrong”.
But if constantly negative or difficult behavior is something new or sudden for an elderly loved-one in your life, it could be more than old age or succumbing to the stereotype of grumpy senior citizen. It can be a symptom of an underlying health problem or a medication side effect.
Pain can make anyone miserable or difficult and sometimes older adults may be fearful of going to the doctor yet feel quite comfortable complaining and sharing their misery with friends and family. Urinary tract infections, which are common among the elderly, may not be symptomatic other than causing the patient to feel crappy and in turn exhibit a change in behavior. Gently encourage an older family member to visit their doctor, or offer to drive them and get these issues checked out.
Medications can also cause behavior changes and confusion that may be mistaken for dementia. Anti-depressants, for example, can have side-effects that worsen symptoms; if a new drug has been started and things aren’t getting better, check back with the prescribing doctor. Medication interactions and side-effects can have serious repercussions. Because older adults often take multiple medications, it’s important to keep an up-to-date list of all drugs and check with a pharmacist about possible interactions and side effects. Blood pressure drugs, anti-seizure medications and anti-inflammatories can cause personality changes in some patients.
Once illness or medications can be ruled out as a cause for constant complaining or irritability, set aside a quiet moment to discuss how the negative behavior is affecting friends and family. Quite often, seniors who complain are unaware that their negativity is harming the relationships they value most. But if the older adult in question has always been an argumentative or difficult person, it’s unlikely to change with age. Best to let it roll off your back and focus on the things within your control and not let it get under your skin.
To learn more about age-related changes in mental health, visit the American Psychological Association by following this link.