Effective Strategies for Dealing with Selfish Elderly Parents

As our parents age, we often anticipate role reversals where adult children become caregivers. This transitional period can bring about various challenges, especially if your elderly parents exhibit behaviors that seem selfish or irrational. It’s only natural to wonder how to deal with irrational elderly parents without losing your patience or sanity. This article aims to provide guidance.

Understanding Selfishness in Elderly Parents:

The first step in managing any problem is understanding its root. Sometimes, perceived selfishness in elderly parents isn’t willful; it might be a product of various changes:

  • Physical Health: Cognitive decline, mobility issues, or chronic illnesses can make simple tasks daunting, causing reluctance.
  • Mental Health: Depression, anxiety, or dementia can alter behavior.
  • Fear of Losing Independence: Elderly parents might become clingy, demanding, or stubborn because they’re grappling with the idea of dependency.


  1. As per the World Health Organization, about 50 million people have dementia worldwide, with nearly 10 million new cases every year.
  2. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society noted that about 15% of elderly individuals suffer from symptoms of depression.

How to Deal with Selfish Elderly Parents?

Tact, understanding, and effective communication are key. Here’s a step-by-step approach:

1. Open a Line of Communication

Communication forms the backbone of any relationship, even more so when it involves caregiving for elderly parents. Begin by setting a regular check-in schedule, perhaps weekly or even daily. During these check-ins, you can talk openly about your feelings, concerns, and experiences. They might not be fully aware of how their behavior affects you, or they might be harboring fears and concerns that they’ve been hesitant to share.

2. Empathy First

Before you react, step into their shoes. The aging process can be daunting, filled with feelings of vulnerability, fear, and a loss of independence. Remember that their seeming selfishness might just be a manifestation of these fears. Engaging with them with kindness and compassion can alleviate some of their anxieties.

3. Set Clear Boundaries

Having boundaries is crucial for both your well-being and theirs. While it’s essential to be empathetic, it’s equally vital to ensure you’re not being overwhelmed. Set clear limits on what you can and cannot do. For example, if your parent continually asks you to run errands, set specific days and times when you can assist them and stick to them.

4. Seek Professional Guidance

Sometimes, the challenges can feel insurmountable. In such cases, professionals trained in geriatric care can offer invaluable insights. This could be in the form of therapy, counseling, or even a session with a geriatric care specialist who can provide tailored advice based on your situation.

How to Deal with Irrational Elderly Parents?

At times, the elderly can act out in ways that seem irrational or out of character. This can be challenging, especially when it comes to major decisions about their health or well-being. So, here are some nuanced strategies you can use:

1. Stay Calm and Collected

Responding to irrationality with heightened emotions can compound the problem. Take deep breaths, remind yourself of their possible physical or mental conditions, and address the issue with a calm demeanor. This approach not only helps de-escalate situations but also assures your parent that they’re in a safe environment.

2. Educate Yourself on Possible Conditions

Understand conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, or even late-onset psychiatric disorders. By being informed, you can identify signs early and adjust your approach accordingly. This proactive measure can also help in seeking timely medical intervention.

3. Engage in Distraction and Diversion

If your elderly parent is fixated on a particular irrational thought or behavior, sometimes a simple distraction can help. Engage them in a different activity, start a new topic of conversation, or simply take them for a short walk. Diverting attention can provide a necessary break from the current stressor.

4. Lean on Support Groups

Support groups can offer two-fold benefits: shared experiences can provide practical strategies, and knowing you’re not alone in this journey can be a source of emotional relief.

Self-Care for Adult Children:

Caring for an elderly parent can be rewarding yet taxing. Amidst the responsibilities, it’s essential to prioritize your well-being. Taking regular breaks, even brief moments of respite helps in rejuvenation. Connecting with support groups or counselors offers insights and emotional relief. Remember, to effectively care for others, you must first ensure you’re at your emotional and physical best.


  1. As per the AARP report, carers devote an average of 24.4 hours per week to caring for loved ones.
  2. A survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving highlighted that 40% of caregivers find their role highly stressful.


Navigating the challenges of dealing with difficult elderly parents can be daunting. However, with patience, understanding, and the right tools, you can ensure that you’re taking care of your elderly loved ones and yourself.


  1. World Health Organization (2021). “Dementia.” 
  2. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (2021). “Depressive symptoms in the elderly.”
  3. Alzheimer’s Disease International (2021). “The global voice on dementia.”
  4. AARP (2021). “Caregiving in the U.S.”
  5. National Alliance for Caregiving (2021). “Caregiver Profile: Understanding the Needs and Challenges.”

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