About my great-grandmother…

Sure, she’s 101 years old. But is that any excuse for being mean? 

Our elder has some advice for a letter writer whos great-grandmother is driving him crazy.


Dear EWC

Hello! I was hoping to get some advice on how I should handle my great grandmother and her criticism and how she always puts me down. My great grandmother just turned 101 last month, literally, and now even the smallest things irritate her. My mom says to just ignore it and that all people get like that when they’re older, but I don’t think that’s true. Before Covid came around, I used to volunteer at the nursing home. I wasn’t a nurse because I’m only 16, so instead I was the only kid from my school who just spent time with the elders like I’d play games with them, listen to them and talk to them because they were so fascinating and lived such exciting lives and you’d be surprised how many families just leave their grandparents or parents their just as a place to store them and it broke my heart. Anyway, none of them were mean like my great grandmother. I’ve tried talking to her about stuff but she’s just too negative and she always criticizes me and makes me feel like I can’t do anything right. The other day she told me that I was dressed like a whore because I was wearing a skirt that went down to my knees. She drives us all crazy. I don’t know what to do because she picks on me the most and I just wish she’d stop. What should I do? And thank you to whoever takes the time out of their day to read this. 


Scriber replies

Your letter stood out because I used to work around older people on the weekends. I don’t claim to be an expert about older people, but I got a chance to observe some of their behavior. What I noticed was that the individuals who had a lot of physical ailments seemed to be the most irritable. That’s the first thing I thought about when I read about how your great-grandmother is acting around you and others. She might have a lot of physical pain, so she may be lashing out at others because of this frustration. 

The other thing that I thought about was that she might be experiencing dementia. She’s 101 years-old! Not all older people experience dementia, but perhaps that’s what is going on with your great-grandmother, in addition to some possible physical ailments. If so, this would cause her to have some memory loss and problems with her judgment. This could explain why she made a statement that you dressed like a whore. When I used to work at the nursing home, I heard some of the older people make some really outrageous statements that didn’t make any sense. They didn’t really know what they were saying. Sometimes the nurses would ask them why they said certain things and they’d either deny it or say that they didn’t remember making certain remarks. It’s like they don’t have a filter and just say anything that comes to their mind. This might be why your great-grandmother is driving everyone crazy, like you indicated in your letter. She probably doesn’t intentionally mean to hurt your feelings. She might not even realize what she is saying. Right before my mother passed away, she made a really outrageous statement to my daughter that she didn’t think my daughter’s father was really her father! I have no idea where she got that idea and what provoked her to make that statement, but that’s what she very calmly said in front of several people. We all looked at each other and just shook our heads. 

Some older people also feel very frustrated and isolated because many of their relatives and friends have passed on. They often feel lonely, like they no longer have a purpose. So, aside from the probable physical ailments, there’s also the psychological and emotional issues. Your great-grandmother may feel really depressed and anxious. She’s nearing the end of her life, so perhaps she’s internalizing a lot of anxiety right now. 

That’s very noble that you used to do volunteer work at a nursing home before Covid. I don’t know why the elderly there didn’t display any similar behavior like your great-grandmother. Perhaps they put their best efforts forward when you were there. Did you ever hear the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt”? It basically means that extensive knowledge of or close association with someone leads to a loss of respect for them. That’s why family members sometimes treat each other worse than they do their friends. 

It may seem like your great-grandmother is picking on you and treating you worse than the others. Maybe she really is doing that. Or maybe that’s how you’re interpreting her behavior. Her behavior may just bother you more than it bothers others. I agree with your mom. I think you should try to ignore her behavior toward you. I know it’s hard, but your mom is right when she says that many older people get irritable. If she seems like she’s in one of her moods, try to distract her by asking her some questions about things that she likes to talk about, but if she doesn’t feel like talking, don’t try to force it. Bring her some treats that she enjoys eating. Give her some compliments. Remember, her life is winding down now. She’s not going to be here too much longer. She’s had a very long life. 

I hope my advice was helpful to you. Please feel free to write back at any time. 

Article #: 472071

Category: Family

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