Cope with Controlling Elderly Parents

How to Cope with Controlling Elderly Parents?


It is tough caring for a controlling parent especially if this is a new behavior. You get lost trying to keep up with their controlling drama that it drains you emotionally. Every day seems like a horror movie on replay. I remember how difficult the last few months before my grandma passed were. She had turned into a controlling mini-devil. Everything had to be done her way or no other way. Bath time was the most horrific as she totally refused to be bathed yet she couldn’t even lift her finger. Its as though the stroke had taken away the bubbly grandma I knew and brought a monster.

Sadly, she passed on before we even got to fully understand how to deal with her new personality. Thanks to the research we did then, I can today share what I learned firsthand on how to cope with controlling elderly parents.


Why do elderly parents become controlling?

elderly parents

There are many reasons why elderly parents become controlling. For some though, it is just in their nature to be control freaks. But even though they were controlling all their lives, you will find that they are now twice more controlling. Owner and president of Concept Healthcare, Dr. Joseph M. Casciani calls it the “more so” factor of aging. He says that who we are in our youth and adult years is pretty much who will be- just more so.

For a majority of the elders, it is the fear of losing control that is making them want to be controlling. As you know by now, people start losing their independence as they age. Their physical ability declines and their mobility becomes restrictive by day especially if they have certain conditions such as dementia. It starts with losing their driving license, their car, and finally not being able to step out of their house. This can be very frustrating, to say the least. Then comes the sad reality that they can no longer do certain tasks by themselves and that they will need to ask for help every other time.

All this coupled with other aging challenges makes them feel as though they are losing the grip of life. This makes some resort to controlling the little they can in their environment, micromanaging every activity related to them. They also lash out at their caregiver as a way of exercising control. A smaller number of seniors start being controlling because some medications they are using are altering their personality. Some chemicals in the medications create an imbalance in the brain making one very moody or having a shifty personality. You will find that one time they are just themselves and another time they are just irritable, and lash out with no reason.

Family dynamics also play a big role in how an elderly behaves. If your loved one has always been the decision-maker in the family then even in their old age they will want to still be in charge. You will find that they want to be consulted at all times and lash out when decisions are made for them. They will ignore the fact that you are their caregiver and still treat you as their child who has to listen and do what mama or papa says. Lastly, pain can make your loved out lash out at you. If they have a condition that makes them be in pain all the time then it is obvious that the pain is the reason for their erratic behavior.


Tips for coping with a controlling elderly parent

Tips for coping

It is important to remember that you cannot change your parents. However, you can change how you deal with their controlling nature. Here are tips for coping with a controlling elderly parent:

Identify the cause of your parent’s behavior

First and foremost, try and understand your loved one. They are obviously dealing with a lot that you have no clue about. Loss, fear, loneliness, mental illnesses as well as physical conditions. Understanding them is a great starting point and will make even communication between you two better. Try and find out the reason for their behavior, is it a cry for independence, is it a new or old habit or are they depressed? Once you find out what is causing their controlling nature then you can follow through to the other tips.


Accept the situation

Accepting the situation as is and realizing that you really can’t force your parent to do what they don’t want to is beneficial to both of you. It will lower the tension and the anxiety that you have every time they lash out. Once you accept the situation, you will realize that you no longer dwell on non-essential things like nap time but on key priorities like their safety and health. Sometimes we just have to choose the battles to fight and let others pass us by.


Using positive reinforcements

Rewards will always work for any person, its human to want to be rewarded for making an effort. However tempting it is, do not scold your loved one, instead reward them with kindness. If they still prove to be difficult, ask them politely to be calm or you will leave and come nack when they are calm and ready to talk.


Allow them to make decisions

Allow them to make decisions every once in a while, this will make them feel in control and they will stop chasing the control. Ask them what activity they want to do, which food they want to eat, ask them to pick out a menu at a restaurant, and so forth. Such small decisions will really go along way in making the situation easy.


Talk to them

Sometimes, their lashing out is a cry for attention. Sit down with them, talk to them, and try and find out how they are. Encourage them to vent out their frustrations as you listen. Of course, you don’t know what it is to be in their position so don’t tell them you do. Just be a good listener and be genuinely empathetic while at it.


Treat them like the adults they are

Well, they may act childish and do absurd things that are not so parent-like but the fact is- they are your parents. As such treat them with respect and dignity. Do not scold them, demean them, or yell at them even if they drive you against the wall. Doing this will only drive a wedge between you two and cause more harm.


How then should you treat them?

Just like you were before they lost their independence. Ask for their input, assistance, seek their opinions, and heed their advice where it applies. This will make them feel that they are still the parent and in control. You are much more likely to get them to do much this way.


Change their medication

If you notice that their new habit started just after starting a new medication, you may want to consult their doctor. Some medications can affect one’s brain composition altering their personality. For such a case, seeking alternative medicine is the only way out.


Ease their pain

If your loved one lashes out because of the immense pain they are in, find ways to ease their pain. Get them pain medications or find other ways to relieve pain such as heat and cold pads.


Seek other alternatives

If all else fails, its time to approach things differently. If they still won’t respect you after doing all the above, consider hiring a caregiver for them to allow you a break from the emotional trauma of dealing with a controlling parent. Stick to being family and let the caregiver do their caregiving role. You can take them to a nursing home or get them an in-home attendant.



Hands-down, being a caregiver to a parent is challenging but it is even more difficult when they exhibit such behaviors as being controlling. It is a habit that is most difficult to deal with as you often don’t know what to do or not to do to make the situation better. The trick to coping with a controlling elderly parent is in how you choose to react and how you treat them. But all this requires that you first understand them and their new habit. If all else fails, do not shy away from seeking professional help.

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