Treating Seniors with Respect in Spite of “Bad” Behavior


A grandfather in his mid-80s had been struggling to drive for some years. Diabetes had resulted in numbness in his feet, and his vision was compromised, which made driving difficult at best. Yet he continued to take pride in being able to drive himself and his wife, retaining their independence.

The rest of his family members knew it was risky to allow him to continue to drive. Yet they were unsure of the best way to navigate this emotionally challenging problem.

One day the grandfather got into a car accident in the parking lot of a grocery store. He totaled his car, but, thankfully, no one was injured and he walked away unhurt—except for his pride.

Pride: A Source of Dignity and Indignity

Pride is one of the most important considerations for anyone in a relationship with an aging person. Without considering pride every step of the way, care for a senior may falter and fall below par simply because caregivers will either fight with the senior over points of pride, neglect care that should be given to avoid injuring the person’s pride, or barrel ahead in ways that sting the older person’s pride and reduce his or her self-esteem to nothingness.

Dignity came from how they did their work rather than what kind of work they did.

Most seniors of the currently-aging generations grew up with a deep sense of pride. They are more patriotic than younger people today, having a deep pride in their country. Often they have more ties to their neighborhoods and local communities than younger people do. They also more closely identify with the work they do. Many were taught to take pride in even the most repetitive and dull work, as the caliber of one’s work was a reflection of one’s self. Dignity came from how they did their work rather than what kind of work they did.

Younger people today have a different perspective on work. They often expect their jobs to be either a career/calling hybrid or a totally soul-sucking experience with no personal or emotional attachment.They might find it hard to relate to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., born in 1929, who enjoined a street sweeper to “sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.”

Ideally, managing the pride of a senior in one’s care can both bolster self-esteem and allow for needed care. After all, old age is full of indignities, and caregivers who are sensitive to seniors’ pride are most effective.

Balancing Pride with Reality

Here are some suggestions for balancing pride with important care decisions, especially when they mean some loss of independence for a senior.

Some matters may be especially touchy, so it is a matter of knowing the senior well. The grandfather in question set a store in being able to care for his wife. In discussions, the family needed to acknowledge that fact and find other ways in which he could still take pride in providing help to his wife.

The caregiver, whether family or professional, does well to consider what matters more: the task or the person’s pride. Some battles truly are not worth fighting; others are non-negotiable. If a battle centers around style, tastes, or harmless preferences, that battle is not worth fighting. Yet sometimes pride must take a backseat when it comes to keeping a senior safe.

The caregiver does well to replace pride in one thing with pride in another. The grandfather’s family sought to replace his pride in being able to take care of himself and his wife with pride in his family. The family vowed he would not need to call a taxi for anything. Instead, a loving bevy of children and grandchildren volunteered to serve as a driving force for everything from doctor’s appointments to the grocery store to social events. Having raised his children and grandchildren to care deeply for their family, the grandfather could take pride in the fact that his descendants had learned the lesson well.

Affronted Pride Causes much “Bad” Behavior

Hurt pride can cause elderly people to behave poorly. They are not happy to be losing abilities they have relied on for decades of their lives. They may lash out verbally or with bad behavior.

…disempowerment can cause a person to act in less-than-kind ways,…

None of us are at our best when our pride has been affronted. It is very difficult not to act out when we feel we have been deprived of something. This does not mean the elderly loved one doesn’t love or appreciate his or her family or caregivers. It doesn’t even mean that the elderly loved one doesn’t agree on the right course of action. However, disempowerment can cause a person to act in less-than-kind ways, even without the person really wanting to act that way.

Caregivers can practice forgiveness and validate the person’s underlying emotions. It is most important not to take any of the person’s emotional expressions personally, even if the caregiver suddenly becomes the victim of harsh words or the silent treatment. With time and open communication, this too shall pass.

Help the senior to look on the bright side. After all, the grandfather who can no longer drive will be spending a lot of time with his children and grandchildren–even if he does wish they would turn down the radio as they drive him to get pizza on Sunday nights.


Reilly, Katie. (July 3, 2013). A generational gap in American patriotism. Pew Research Center . Available at Retrieved April 11, 2016.

Shah, Rawn. (April 20, 2011). Working With Five Generations in The Workplace. Forbes Available at Retrieved April 18, 2016.

The Wall Street Journal. How to Manage Different Generations. Available at Retrieved April 11, 2016.