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.

Kurt Kazanowski MS, RN, CHE, has more than 30 years working with seniors, first as a nurse, and now in hospice and homecare. 

His 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.

2. 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 their 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.

3. 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 parent is doing this, offer to find them 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.

4. 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 a 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. 

5. 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 to discuss 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.

6. Talk, if they are willing. 

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

7. Grant them the little victories.

For them to feel they still have control, let them make decisions when possible. If you are going out to eat as a family, let them select the restaurant. Ask their opinion about important life matters to include them in situations. Help them 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.

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


Kurt Kazanowski is an author, speaker, coach and consultant in the areas of aging, hospice and home care. He is a native of Detroit, Michigan, and has over three decades of experience in the field of healthcare. He received his bachelor’s degree in nursing from Mercy College of Detroit and practiced as a public health nurse for many years. Today, Kurt is the owner of two successful personal care home health companies – Homewatch CareGivers in Michigan where he lives and First Home Care in Moscow, Russia.

Kurt is also the author of A Son’s Journey.

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