How to manage old age temper tantrums
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How to manage old age temper tantrums

Healthy ageing requires people to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors in all stages of their life

How to manage old age temper tantrums

Ageing is a multifactorial process, which affects the human body on every level and results in both biological and psychological changes. In research, it is found that lower subjective age is associated with better mental and physical health, cognitive functions, well-being, and satisfaction with life.

Healthy ageing requires people to adopt and maintain healthy behaviors in all stages of their life span. Most people would like to think of their personalities as relatively stable throughout their lives. Your traits are ever-shifting, and by the time you're in your 70s-80s, you’ve undergone a significant transformation.

People age differently and experience ageing differently based on heredity, lifestyle, and attitudes. Ageing means a change in physical, psychological, relationships, social, environment, situation, behaviour, spiritual, and intellectual.

Based on research, the stereotype of older people as grumpy and curmudgeonly needs some revision. They develop into more altruistic and trusting individuals, willpower increases, and a better sense of humour. They have more control over their emotions. Those who did not like change when they were younger, generally, don’t like ageing. 

To study how an older person will act is to look back at her behaviour in earlier life. Your personality is intrinsically linked to your wellbeing as you age. It is a challenge for older adults and their caregivers to accept and adjust to changes to build ‘resilience’. Psychologists say the process of change that occurs as you age is called personality maturation. It’s a gradual, imperceptible change that begins in your teenage years and continues into at least your eighth decade on the planet.

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According to RodicaLoana Damian, Associate Professor, University of Houston, people are kind of forced to change their behaviour and, over time, become more responsible. Your personalities change to help you cope with life’s challenges.

In research, it is found that the older group’s personality traits begin to shift so that on average, they become less open and extraverted, as well as less agreeable and conscientious. The healthy changes that had been occurring throughout their lives started to reverse.

Research into Japanese centenarians has found that older tend to score highly for conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness, but they may have had more of these characteristics, to begin with; perhaps this even contributed to their longevity.

Change in behavior is prominent in old age. Mood swings and abrupt behavioral changes are fairly common in old age, and they can still be challenging as many families or caregivers are mortified and have no idea how to handle their parents lashing out in a way they’ve never experienced before.

Temper tantrums are observed by many, which is highly difficult at times to handle, and to know that many factors are responsible for it, you seek counselling. You tend to think of tantrums as only about small children or teenagers, but the truth is that emotional outbursts can occur at any time in life. Loss of composure triggered by strong feelings like anger, fear, and sadness, or any combination of three. Without losing your temper too, understanding the reason behind an outburst is crucial.

What does an old age temper tantrum look like

It may vary to the situation but often resemble

  • Fit silent: Tantrums shown in silent or non-verbal form. They might block your path and stomp. They might still become aggressive without speaking.
  • The tirade: a tirade includes ranting, shouting, and insulting others. They may throw items and slam doors.
  • The whine: including insulting others, they get angry, cry, moan, and scream.

John Broadus Watson, an American Psychologist, says “Many adults who don’t get that socio-emotional learning as children and adolescents often resort to unhelpful and emotionally dysregulation ways of communicating themselves, which is called an adult temper tantrum."

In a survey in India, typically, similaroutbursts stem from scarcities in their parenthood, educationally deprived, personal beliefs, social relationships, active participation in tattling and bitching, appetite to know gratuitous effects, and want everything to be in their favour, tensions, nature of being unreasonably demanding, or perhaps being the ruler of the family, not able to manage their emotions, or family responsibilities.

If someone feels ashamed, disrespected, not listened to, or afraid, they might purposefully throw a temper tantrum. Pretending to fall sick - without any cause, quitting eating meals for a day or two, don't maintain hygiene, verbally abusing others or immediate caregivers, and bitching and tattling with their close ones.

It’s important not to judge who is having the temper tantrum; at the same time, you must not reinforce the negative behaviour by giving it attention.

Reasons behind the emotional and behavioural change in old age

The reason could be due to Depression, Anxiety, Dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Physical pain, Loneliness or Isolation, Response to medicines, Emotional baggage, Manipulation, Excessive judging, and Emotional turmoil.

Some of the toxic behaviours that are normalized by society

Developing a relationship in which hurt, disappointment, and manipulations play out, then that won't be a good relationship.

Toxic behaviour is dysfunctional or unproductive, Toxic is unhealthy behaviour. Family units take on toxic behaviour into their norms of how they function, and unfortunately, many of these norms are societally and socially accepted, though they may be harming one's well-being.

  • You should never disagree or question family members

Disagreeing is not a sign of disrespect but dismissing someone's thoughts, feelings or reality is considered disrespect.

  • You should tolerate harmful people because they're relatives

You are valid to do what is best for you to protect your mental and emotional energy. Mental and emotional harm and abuse should not be put aside to tolerate people.

  • Lacking boundaries or having a "free pass" of crossing the boundaries

There are misconceptions that there are exceptions for family members, and while those boundaries look different. Mental, emotional, and physical energy is important to take care of with your family too. Boundaries are boundaries if someone is family.

  • Expecting children to be responsible for their parents' needs

The child may feel pressure to fix their parents' problems. Though parents' caretakers also have their problems, children are not responsible for care-taking or "fixing".

  • Parents keeping secrets or expecting children to listen "because I said so"

Secrets only lead to disconnections and shame. It is more about the process of how parents communicate decisions.

  • Your family always knows you or knows you better than yourself.

That doesn't take your autonomy. People can know you but no one else knows your thoughts, feelings, and values as you do.

  • Not addressing family issues or conflicts and pretending everything is okay.

Lack of trust creates an environment that feels inauthentic and unsafe.

Few tips to deal with behaviour changes in Old Age

  • Assess the situation, and an appropriate response should be decided. Make sure yourself safety first.
  • Don’t engage - do not reinforce the negative behavior. Give them space and let them calm down.
  • You do not have to justify taking a break from caregiving or drawing the line on your loved one’s unrealistic demands. It is advised to set and maintain boundaries, “NO is a complete sentence.”
  • You need and deserve a break, unrelenting negativity and criticism are damaging to be around.
  • Learning to prioritize self-care and exclude undeserved guilt are the keys to successful, sustainable caregiving.
  • Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional to find the cause of their unhealthy behaviour.


About the Writer

Credit: Supplied

Anamika is a Clinical Psychologist. She specializes in exceptional children and is an educational counsellor associated with NGOs. She also writes articles for