Understanding Senior Behavior
Children who become caregivers for their aging parents often find themselves facing behavioral changes. Sometimes seemingly overnight, or perhaps occurring more gradually, their once calm, loving parent becomes blunt, even mean — or possibly quite fearful.
But it isn’t only adult children as caregivers who may notice bewildering behavior. One elderly woman began heaping verbal abuse on a visiting nurse who was attempting to change her husband’s wound dressing, interfering with the process and insisting the nurse was doing it incorrectly.
What causes such shifts in demeanor, and what is the best way to respond? Anyone who works with seniors — including reverse mortgage professionals — needs to be aware of these issues.
When a senior begins acting out of character, the first priority is to rule out an organic cause, e.g., dementia. An abrupt change in behavior, such as a mild-mannered senior suddenly starting to swear or becoming enraged with no provocation, may indicate a change in their mental or physiological state — but it could just as easily signify frustration with the many-layered loss of control that tends to accompany aging.
In the example above, the nurse recognized that her patient’s wife felt excluded and helpless, and took her aside to explain that she understood her feelings, and was there to help her give her husband the best possible care. Once the woman felt “seen”, she calmed down, and the R.N. was able to complete her wound care visit satisfactorily.
Sometimes an elder will be verbally or emotionally abusive to a caregiver, child or other person with whom they feel safe enough to do so. They may not even think they’re being offensive; just venting their pain or grief to someone they trust to “hold” their feelings. So if a senior you know says, “Mind your own business!” a little forcefully, thank them for trusting you enough to be honest, back off from whatever you were discussing, and don’t take it personally.
Of course, if they say this in a reverse mortgage setting, it would be wise to schedule another meeting at a later date to ascertain whether the outburst has any direct bearing on the HECM process — and to assess whether this senior is, in fact, a good candidate to age in place. If so, what additional support services might be needed?
We each grow older differently, yet the aging process, however joy-filled, does by definition necessitate loss. Friends and family members die, people move away, bodies become less agile. Perhaps most distressing of all, the opinions and wisdom accumulated over a lifetime are frequently brushed aside.
The gift you can offer seniors who may be behaving in an unexpected manner is to recognize that it’s not about you, and that, barring any physical or mental impairment, your best response is one of understanding, care, and attention — which may be exactly what the senior is trying, however inappropriately, to obtain.