Setting Boundaries with Elderly Loved Ones

March 17, 2021

It can be challenging to provide care for elderly loved ones even in the best of situations. It can be considerably more difficult when the loved one has a history of being emotionally abusive or is suffering from loss of control due to some type of cognitive impairment.

There are many families that have endured toxic relationships for many years and now are placed in a position where they need to make financial and health care decisions for other family members. Having a difficult childhood and carrying that into adulthood can lead to additional psychological harm when forced to continue to provide care for abusive family members.

In the case of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a loved one who was previously mild mannered may now be combative, manipulative or even violent. Because of the nature of these illnesses and the fact that they are progressive in nature, a lot of unpredictability may be causing undue stress.

Seniors who are incapable of controlling their moods, words or behavior will need loved ones who can establish appropriate boundaries. Some mental health professionals suggest using a method of setting boundaries referred to as detachment. This simply means that you create emotional distance from the actions of the toxic loved one. Using this process, you acknowledge that you cannot control this individual nor gain his or her approval.

After practicing detachment consistently for a period of time the toxic individual will begin to see that they are no longer able to trigger negative emotions in you. Once you change this pattern, the toxic individual will likely respond by also changing. This is not necessarily always a change for the better, but a change nonetheless, is likely to occur.

Often in these situations it is best to step aside as a primary caregiver and place the individual in some type of adult daycare, enlist the assistance of an in-home provider or set up residency at a long-term care facility. Your absence and clear commitment to sticking with the plan often helps to provide the consistency needed for the senior to accept the caregiving and living arrangement provided.

Also call in reinforcements whenever you need them whether temporarily or permanently. It is always better to arrange for someone else to take over as caregiver than for you to become burned out or even abusive yourself. In some cases, it may even be best for a non-family member to take over not only providing care but also making decisions. An estate planning attorney can advise you on the best options for setting up a guardianship or power of attorney.

For assistance in developing a plan for an unstable or toxic senior, contact the compassionate and understanding elder law attorneys at Stouffer Legal in the Greater Baltimore area. You can schedule an appointment by calling us at (443) 470-3599 or emailing us at

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