Being a caretaker is a gift and a privilege. We’re given the opportunity to care for others during their most difficult, vulnerable moments and it isn’t always easy. Old age can be painful and tough; therefore, caregivers need to expect the occasional bad day.

Although every person ages differently, many seniors experience mild to moderate changes in behavior and personality over time. These changes happen for countless reasons. Whether it’s a recent loss, frustration from illness, developing depression, or a sign of something more serious, here are a few of the most common behaviors to expect:



As some seniors get older, they may start to rebel against your assistance. It’s not uncommon for someone to begin to refuse showering, medication, or even essential healthcare. Some are forgetful while others intentionally reject these tasks in order to maintain a sense of perceived power, control, or independence.

This can be extremely frustrating but there are some reasons why this may be happening. Some struggle with depression, loneliness, or anxiety.  Others may have declining senses or may be unable to meet their own basic needs. They may simply reject the need for help and feel resentful of the sudden involvement in their lives. Regardless of the reason, refusal can be a serious concern that could endanger their lives.

Someone refusing your help is understandably frustrating but constant nagging or losing patience rarely helps. Consider starting with baby steps. If hygiene is an issue, start with a quick wipe down and gradually move them towards more and more hygienic practices. If meal preparation is the problem, try small snacks first, then one meal, until eventually they allow you to help with grocery shopping and cooking.


Yelling or Inappropriate Language

Shockingly, offensive or abusive language can arise from otherwise mild-mannered people. Other seniors may simply have a naturally offensive or outspoken nature. Regardless, loud or offensive language can be embarrassing or hard to handle, especially in public.

Most often, changes in language are caused by a developing condition, such as dementia or a urinary tract infection (UTI). Make sure to talk with a healthcare professional if any behavior seems out of character. When inappropriate language starts, try some of these things:

  • Set and maintain boundaries; tell them you will not tolerate that behavior.
  • Distraction may also help. Try ask them to tell a story or anything that distracts.
  • Guilt or punishment, like saying you won’t take them out any more. It may be upsetting but sternness can check the worst behaviors.



Anger is a common and natural emotion that often arises out of defensiveness. Sometimes from born from irritation or impatience, anger can arise after dealing with years of physical pan, memory decline, sudden deaths, or loss of independence. More often than not, anger can be dealt with by giving them some space and time. In more serious circumstances, anger can lead to aggression or even rage.

Remember this! People often reserve their most intense emotions for those that are closets to them. Angry people can be mean, demanding, or impossible to please. Remind yourself of the importance of your role and try your best to empathize. Acknowledge their feelings, communicate understanding, and work on a compromise that can calm things down.


Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Dementia is a complex condition that causes changes in mood, language, behavior, and even personality. Depending on the progression of the disease, seniors can experience any one of the difficult behaviors discussed above. Seniors with dementia slowly lose control over thoughts, feelings, memories, and even their present behavior.

In cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia, confusion easily turns to anger. Forgetfulness leads to countless frustrating behaviors including: persistent dishonesty, confusing communication, unprovoked panic, and much more. Remember: they have little knowledge or control over their thoughts and words. Try to be as patient and understanding as you possibly can.


No matter what’s going on, dealing with difficult behavior requires self-care above all. You are the most important resource for yourself and those you care for. In hard moments, take a walk or call a close friend to vent. In your off time, be sure to schedule yourself some relaxation and enjoyment. Taking even one day a month can make an enormous difference overall. Coping skills are the most important tool in your tool box; you never have enough!

Caring for seniors means being there for them no matter how difficult they can be. Many seniors experience bad days and it’s important to have someone they can count on that understands. Dramatic personality changes can feel traumatic, especially for family caregivers, but there is something you can do! When coping skills and self-care aren’t enough, it may be time to consider residential care.


For additional health information, visit the main Caregiving page or learn more about senior care options on the main Assisted Living page.

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About the Author: Victoria K. Stickley is a copywriter, editor, and senior content manager based in the Dallas area. Her graduate education in counseling and research has helped immensely in her writing as well as the care she provides for her grandparents. She currently provides support and resources to senior care websites as she learns and experiences senior care first-hand.