Manipulative Behavior in the Elderly

As people age, they lose control and independence. They go from having complete control over their lives and the ability to weave their own path to being reliant on others. The body deteriorates, and as a result, they may need others to help them with even the most basic tasks.

This loss of independence is hard to take, especially when you combine the fear of illness, the loss of a loved one, and the agitation and frustration that comes from chronic pain, weakness, and other common complaints.

As a result, many seniors turn their attention to the one thing they do have control over: other people. The mind can stay strong and sharp long into old age, and if they have caregivers and family members fussing over them, they may use it to their advantage, resorting to manipulation tactics to get what they want.

How to Prevent Manipulation in the Elderly

The above is only true for patients who are not in the later stages of dementia because as we will discover below, manipulation isn’t all that it seems where dementia is concerned. One of the problems that family caregivers have is that they have a lot of love for the care recipient and may feel responsible for them.

More significantly, they may underestimate them, assuming that their minds are failing just because they take more naps than they used to and don’t remember as well as they did. That said, the patient has decades of experience behind them and knows their adult children better than they know themselves. If anyone is capable of manipulation, they are.

To make your life more tolerable in the presence of a manipulative elderly care recipient, focus on the following:

Understand When it’s Caregiver Abuse

If the manipulation becomes severe, resulting in physical/mental abuse or neglect, it may have crossed over into the realm of caregiver abuse. At this point, you need to take a more serious and hardline approach.

If they are abusing you and know that they are abusing you, remove yourself from the situation. You are not obligated to care for abusive parents, especially when they can meet their needs themselves or move into a care facility.

You’re there to make their life easier, and if they reject that and throw it back in your face, step back.

Of course, it’s a different story for elders who struggle with dementia and other mental health problems.

Don’t Give In

If you’re confident that you’re being manipulated, don’t give in to their needs. Of course, this can be a sensitive topic, and you should never deprive them of essential help. At the same time, if they’re hassling you for chocolate and candy instead of eating a wholesome dessert, don’t let them eat that dessert.

They had their main meal, the rest is a treat, and if they are going to threaten you by not eating it, don’t give in. The same applies when they insist on watching their favorite TV shows.

Remind them that you are there to help and to ensure their basic needs are met, but you are not there to bow to their every command.

Look at Other Options

When outside help is absolutely necessary and manipulation/abuse is making your job difficult, consider alternative options. Sit them down, discuss these options with them, and explain your reasoning.

They will either be forced to change their ways and stop the manipulative tactics, or they will increase their efforts and try to scare you. If it’s the latter, take the initiative and hire homecare services or take them to an adult day care, thus limiting your involvement. 

Are People with Dementia Manipulative?

Many dementia caregivers mistakenly believe that their care recipients are capable of manipulative behavior. In the early stages before their minds deteriorate, this may be true. However, most of the time, those “manipulations” are the result of confusion, uncertainty, agitation, memory loss, and other concerning symptoms associated with this disease.

For adult children tasked with caring for parents with dementia, it’s easy to see manipulation where there is none. After all, they are seeing behavior they are not used to and as they are assuming the role of caregiver, they may treat their parents like they would treat children, who definitely can be manipulative.

From the perspective of someone with dementia, they may lie because they can’t remember the truth. They may refuse to meet the caregiver’s demands, throw tantrums, and generally display childish behavior. But this is the illness, not manipulation.

If a parent or care recipient is displaying this kind of behavior, keep the following tips in mind:

Don’t Take it Personally

It’s difficult to watch a loved one slip into the abyss of Alzheimer’s. Many children and spouses are mistaken for taxi drivers, nursing staff, and caretakers, and when they have devoted their lives to that person and love them with all their heart, that’s hard to take.

It’s important to remember, however, that it’s all part of the illness and shouldn’t be taken personally. This is true for the so-called “manipulation” tactics as well. If they get agitated and lash out, it doesn’t mean they love you less, nor does it mean they care more about avoiding their meds than they do about you.

It’s the illness, and they can’t help it.

Don’t Argue

While it’s tempting to argue and use reason, it won’t work if the patient has late-stage dementia. Not only are they not fully aware of what they’re doing, but they don’t have the capacity to reason. They are reactionary, not understanding, which means they may react to your tone and perceived anger but won’t necessarily heed your words.

Take Some Time Out

Caregiver stress is a very real and crippling condition, and as more family members assume this difficult role, it’s becoming more prevalent. It doesn’t matter how much you love them and how responsible you feel for them, you’re only one person and you’re not an experienced healthcare practitioner, so you can’t be expected to stay calm and in control 24/7.

To prevent getting overstressed and overworked, at which point your health will suffer, look into caregiver respite services. These include adult day care centers and homecare services, all designed to help you rest and recharge.

Pay Attention to the Triggers

When they react and have an episode, focus on the time, the environment, and any potential triggers. It might be something you said, or it could even be the noise of the radio or TV. Noticing these triggers and removing them from future interactions will reduce the risk of such problems occurring again. 

Get Help

Some caregivers may spend all their days caring for an individual and all their nights worrying about them. They assume the role of a new parent and spend every waking hour in a fit of exhaustion, desperation, and worry.

It’s okay for a few months when you first have a child and have the benefits of youth and health on your side, but with age and illness, it becomes a near-impossible task. You lose sleep, stop eating properly, and before long, you feel like you’re going mad. At this point, it’s easy to believe that the care recipient is knowingly manipulating you.

Bring in someone else to help you, be they a friend, neighbor, or family member. Typically, when an elderly parent dies and leaves the other parent alone, or when a parent is first diagnosed with dementia, adult children receive a barrage of condolences and support. People want to help, and they offer their services, so start accepting.

They don’t have to help with toileting needs and they don’t need to give them a sponge bash every day, but every little helps.

A neighbor can walk the dog or cook an extra portion of their evening meal. A family member can buy groceries or pick up medications. Friends can install mobility aids. Even the smallest offering goes a very long way, as it’s one less thing for the caregiver to worry about.