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Ask Alina – Aging Parent is Suddenly Forgetful and Angry

Dear Ask Alina,

I am entering a new phase of life I am not prepared for. I am not sure what is going on with my mother. My mom and I used to be best friends. Lately, she seems to always be angry, she picked up a “flowery” language that she never used before, and she blames me for taking her possessions from the house. She seems to be super forgetful or pretends to not remember things we used to do together, but she remembers her childhood and talks a lot about that.

I love my mom and want to spend time with her, but her constant anger and blame is keeping me away from her.

Mommy’s Girl

Alameda Post - an outline of an older person, perhaps an aging parent, with an overlaid outline of a tree in their mind

Dear Mommy’s Girl,

I am not a doctor but I can offer some ideas of what could be happening with your mother. Please reach out and rely on a medical professional for a proper evaluation and diagnosis.

Here are a few possibilities:

  • Your mom may have an onset of dementia. Memory loss, mood swings, and behavioral outbursts are symptoms of dementia. Personality change, increased irritability and impulsive behavior also are signs to look out for. If your mom is having difficulty with short-term memory but can recall things that happened in her childhood, that also could be a sign of cognitive decline.
  • Perhaps your mom is taking new medication. Some medical conditions or medications can cause memory problems, mood swings, and behavioral problems. This can include infections or side effects from a medication.
  • Stress, anxiety, and depression can also manifest as memory issues, mood swings, and anger. It is possible that your mom’s behavior is related to unresolved emotional issues.
  • Substance and alcohol abuse. If your mom is using drugs or alcohol, it can affect her memory, behavior, and mood. This also can include prescription medication taken outside of her doctor’s recommendation.

What can you do? For sure, make it a priority for your mom to see her Primary Care Physician. Ask to attend her meeting with the doctor, explaining that this is to ensure that you can provide her continued care and support outside of the doctor’s office. If you know how to reach your mom’s doctor, reach out to their office prior to her appointment and provide your observations so the doctor can use that as part of the assessment.

Suggest that your mom join support groups. Whether she is suffering from dementia, alcohol abuse, or mental health crisis, support groups can be very effective. Ask the doctor’s office for recommendations after the doctor has made their assessment and reached a diagnosis.

Check in with your mom about her financial and medical directives. Is everything in order? Does she need to update any legal documents?

In the meantime, try to be patient with your mom. The changes you are describing are distressing for the individual who is experiencing them as well as their loved ones. Take time to educate yourself on stages of cognitive decline. While you are providing support and empathy for your mom, I encourage you to find your own support. Seek support from friends, family, and local or religious communities. Reach out to a licensed Psychotherapist and try to find a support group for adults with aging parents.

A great way to find individual and group support is by visiting Psychology Today.

Alina Baugh is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Ask Alina is for informational purposes only. This article does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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