Tips to Deal with a Controlling Aging Loved One

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.

My 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.

  1. Grant them the little victories.

For the person to feel they still have control, let him or her make decisions when possible. If you are going out to eat as a family, let the person select the restaurant. Ask your loved one’s opinion about important life matters in order to include them in situations. Help the person 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.

  1. 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 the person’s 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.

  1. 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 is doing this, offer to find the person 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.

  1. 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 an adult 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.

  1. 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 discussing 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.

  1. Talk, if they are willing.

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

  1. 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 the person does not respect that after a point, you can seek other help for your loved one. There are assisted living and nursing home options. That way, there is a professional caregiver that will deal with the daily tasks for your loved one. You can then take the personal family member role and see your loved one whenever you see fit.

Kurt A. Kazanowski, MS, RN, CHE, owner of Homewatch CareGivers in Plymouth, Michigan, is a seasoned health care executive with over three decades of experience. and Please visit /and

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