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Senior Health

Arguments with Elderly Mother

11/14/2011

Question:

My mother is in her 80s and is still in excellent health. She lives in her own home, drives, shops, does her own cleaning and cooking and gardening, and is very active with several volunteer groups (president of 2 of them), etc.

But I find myself getting in very strange arguments with her. Here is an example. She complains that I never tell her what I`m doing. The fact is, I have a much more boring life than she does, so there is usually nothing to tell. I go to work, come home, sleep, clean on the weekends, and that`s about it. We argue about me "not telling her what`s going on in my life" a lot, and I don`t know what to say. Its like she thinks I am "hiding" all kinds of interesting and personal stuff from her, and I`m not.

Recently I did have something to tell her. I`d gone to a free event featuring a local politician who is running for a local office. I wanted to go meet him and hear what he had to say about current topics. When I told her that I did that, she made me repeat the name of the politician 3x and finally asked me to spell it for her. I got exasperated and said, "Why are you asking this? It doesn`t matter. You aren`t in his district. It is a very local thing and it doesn`t affect you." Believe it or not we got in a 20-minute argument then about why "I" was being "so mean to her" and why "I" was "behaving this way."

I start to doubt my own sanity after a while. Am _I_ the one who is being completely unreasonable? Is that a normal kind of conversation to have with an elderly mother? I feel like she is constantly evaluating and judging me for every little thing, and I resent that at the age of almost 60 myself I still can`t go hear a politician speak without having to report everything, including how to spell the politician`s name, to my Mother.

Which one of us is being "unreasonable" here? If it is me I will back off. I honestly don`t know any more.

Answer:

It sounds like you are very concerned about your mother and her behavior. If your mother's behavior has changed drastically from previous behavior it woudl be beneficial to express your concerns about the changed behavior to your mother. Explain the behavior as you experience it. Your mother may not be aware of her changed behavior and/or your concern about it.

Sometimes as we age, we may experience mild behavior changes but drastic behavior change is not usually common. From your description, I do not perceive your being unreasonable in your conversation. 

If the behavior is a drastic change, it may indicate the need for assessment by your mother's primary care provider to rule out any physical/psychological conditions that may result in behavior changes. Experience teaches that changing the subject or ceasing a conversation is more helpful than engaging in an argument or asking "why" she is engaging in this type of behavior is usually not helpful, even though this my lead to frustration on your part, which is understandable.

Your concerns are understandable and suggest that if the behavior continues and/or gets more intense, it may be an indication of underlying issues that need to be addressed with the primary health care provider.

Thank you for sending your question. Hopefully, this has been helpful.

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati