How To Deal With Irrational Elderly Parents

Bring peace to your home by learning how to deal with irrational elderly parents. Most individuals with aging parents struggle to cope with the changes their parents experience in their later years. Cognitive decline, delusions, irrationality, and other mental deficits can cause significant disturbances in the household, especially in the early stages.

how to deal with irrational elderly parents

Thankfully, resources and tools do exist for children of irrational elderly patients. At the onset of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and similar conditions, family caregivers often find themselves ill-equipped to handle the unpredictability of their elderly parents. 

If you just discovered that your parent’s mental well-being has begun to suffer, consider the following tips for dealing with irrational elderly parents.

1. Perform Your Own Tests

Trust your instinct. If you’ve noticed new idiosyncrasies in your parent’s behavior, investigate further. Test your parent’s memory, ability to compute basic math, and identification of common household objects. Pay close attention not only to your parent’s verbalization, but also any body language. 

Parents in the early stages of cognitive decline often develop behaviors to hide it. They practice with neighbors, grocery store clerks, and anyone else they meet on a regular basis. Look for repetitive phrasing in your parent’s speech, untimely changing of the subject during a conversation, and other evasive tactics used to cover up or distract you away from deficiencies.

Take care to question your parent as naturally as possible to avoid a confrontation. Parents suffering from new mental issues often remain aware of what has happened and can feel very sensitive and defensive about it. Ask a few questions in passing rather than sitting your parent down and demanding his or her full attention.

2. Obtain a Cognitive Evaluation

Cognitive Evaluation With Irrational Parents
Cognitive Evaluation

If the results of your tests make you feel uneasy, your parent may need a professional cognitive evaluation. A diagnosis provided by a medical doctor can go a long way towards understanding what’s going on with your parent, how you can help, and how to plan for the future diminishment of your parent’s cognitive ability.

Learning the name of the disorder affecting your parent eliminates a lot of the questions and uncertainty you may have experienced. Now, you can search for available resources related to your parent’s disorder, create an environment that reduces your parent’s confusion or irrationality, and work with a health care professor on devising a plan for the future.

3. Don’t Reason with the Unreasonable

Even if a diagnosis alleviates the fear associated with not knowing which disorder plagues your parent, it doesn’t help you much when it comes to day-to-day eldercare. If your parent experiences episodes of severe irrationality, attempting to reason with them represents an exercise in futility.

Instead of reasoning with your irrational elderly parent, try connecting on an emotional level. Even if you know for a fact that your parent is wrong about something, agree with them. Aged parents who suffer from dementia and other conditions that cause irrationality often act out due to an emotional disturbance. Don’t reason. De-escalate and connect with your parent.

4. Pick Your Spots

Confront irrational parent
Confront irrational parent

Blowups will happen, but you should pick your spots when deciding whether to square-off with your parent. If you don’t demonstrate discipline and restraint when your parent becomes irritable, even the most minor issues can turn into a major fight.

If you don’t pick and choose when to confront your irrational parent, you’ll start pulling your hair out in no time.

A confrontation only becomes necessary when there’s a risk of:

  • Harm to your parent
  • Harm to yourself or others
  • Significant property loss
  • Criminal prosecution

If a disagreement arises concerning something trivial, remind yourself to pick your spots and let it go. In the grand scheme of things, as long as everyone remains safe from the above risks, there’s no sense in arguing with an irrational elderly parent.

5. Put Yourself in Their Shoes

If your parent seems disturbed by something, put yourself in their shoes. Refrain from arguing with your parent and, instead, try to figure out what has caused the disturbance. You might want to ask sincere questions about what happened or sit next to your parent to see if you notice what has triggered them. 

Many irrational elderly parents suffer from delusions that a burglar broke into the house. If that’s the case, get close to your parent to gain the same perspective. Maybe your parent mistook car headlights shining through the window for a burglar’s flashlight. Or, perhaps your parent’s room needs a little more light.

Place the focus on reassuring your parent rather than winning an argument. You already know you’re right. If you can see no harm in it, allow your parent to win. Most of the time, your parent probably just wants some company or to hear some positive news. Finally, try humoring your parent by checking for the burglar. If it works, you now have a new tool in your toolbox.

6. Work Towards Acceptance

You may find it difficult, but slowly work towards accepting the path your parent must walk. With most cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia, mental deterioration continues indefinitely. No real cure exists, but you can find treatment for your parent to slow their mental decline and help them acclimate to the changes they experience.

Your parent may have served as your childhood hero; and, in turn, you want to act as their hero now. You are their hero, but you can’t save them from their inevitable fate. The best you can do involves making your parent comfortable and stress-free. If you can manage that, then you’ll feel a lot saner as new behavioral changes emerge down the road.

7. Forgive Yourself

A lot of caregivers feel guilty for one reason or another. Many feel like they could always do more for their irrational elderly parents. That may prove true, but no one expects you to do everything you possibly can and neglect your other responsibilities. Take it easy on yourself. Focus on all of the care you provide for your parent.

Your parent has a motor of their own. You can’t decide when to turn it on or shut it off. The best you can do is steer them away from danger. And, if they make a mistake that causes an injury or financial loss, you shouldn’t blame yourself. In the end, your irrational elderly parent will do whatever they want, as long as it remains within their power to do so.

8. Seek Advice from Professional Caregivers

If you find yourself at your wit’s end and don’t know where to turn, ask a professional caregiver for help. Maybe one of your neighbors or someone from one of your community organizations works in eldercare. Finding a resource like that can help a lot because you’ll receive tips and tricks on how to get along with your irrational elderly parent.

Otherwise, you can always go online and ask questions on forums or groups dealing with eldercare. Try to find one that has remained active to improve your chances of receiving a reply. And, keep in mind that some of the responses you may receive will come from non-medical personnel. Still, private anecdotes from someone in your position can serve you well.

9. Practice Self-care

Practice self-care
Practice self-care

It’s easy to lose yourself when caring for a parent with dementia. Aside from your other responsibilities, the tasks that go into providing a safe, comfortable space for your parent can consume all of your free time. But, you need to make sure you set aside time for yourself. It can prove as important as the care you provide to your parent.

Making time to reflect, refresh, and regroup decreases the likelihood that you burn out. In truth, everyone who cares for an irrational elderly parent burns out every once in a while. But, escaping your parental care duties for a short time can improve the level of care you provide overall. Don’t forget about your duties to yourself.

10. Introduce, Reinforce, Recall

Because parents with dementia struggle to remember things, planning future events can represent an impossible task. If your parent demonstrates a particularly stubborn attitude, then they may not cooperate when the time comes to dress up, get in the car, and go somewhere. Fortunately, you can reduce the chances of this happening.

First, you want to introduce the idea of a future event. Make it exciting. Try to get a rise out of your parent so they’ll remember it. Then, during the lead-up to the event, continue to reinforce the subject matter, people, and date of the event. Finally, on the day of the event, jog your parent’s memory of the event and inform your parent that today is the day.


Caring for an irrational elderly parent can cause a lot of stress, heartache, and frustration. But, you should also find it rather rewarding. Your parent cared for you year after year. 

Try to look at eldercare as a way of paying your parent back. And, if you follow some of the tips and tricks explained above, then you may even enjoy it.

Cherry is the editor-in-chief of Mobility With Love. She obtained a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology and a master's degree in Adapted Physical Activity. Her expertise includes biomechanics, biochemistry, nutrition, disability studies, and so on.

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