How to Handle a Parent’s Inappropriate Behavior

As too many caregivers know, changes in a loved one’s personality can cause unpredictable, embarrassing outbursts or actions. Sometimes, unpleasant behaviors result from reversible causes like pain, infection, or even medication. Often, however, these changes are a more permanent outcome after a stroke or an illness such as Alzheimer’s disease. And as your aging or ailing loved one begins to say or do socially unacceptable things, it’s up to you to manage the behavior—and others’ reactions, too.

Be Prepared

Make sure your loved one is well rested before outings, since fatigue can increase the chances of less-than-acceptable behavior. You may want to inform strangers like waitstaff or sales clerks of your loved one’s condition. “Pardon My Companion” cards, created by the Alzheimer’s Association, discreetly inform others that your loved one’s unusual behavior is caused by illness. (To request these free cards, call 1-800-272-3900.)

Skip the Scolding

When improper behavior stems from cognitive decline, resist the urge to reprimand your loved one or even to explain why the action was wrong or inappropriate. Trying to make sense of their outburst or behavior may only escalate the situation.

React Calmly

If your dad is suddenly hurling profanity or attempting to expose himself in public, do your best to keep your cool. Validate angry feelings by saying something like, “I see you’re very upset. Let’s try to fix this.” Address him calmly, and make sure your body language is non-threatening, too.

Try Distraction

Diverting your loved one’s attention may seem too easy, but it’s often an effective way to end inappropriate actions. Try changing the subject, or pointing out something your wife might find interesting. If her long-term memory is still fairly intact, reminisce about a happy time from long ago.

Offer a Heads-Up

Before you visit family or invite guests over, let everyone know that your loved one’s personality might not be what they remember. Explain some of the changes, and provide a few techniques that you’ve found useful.

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