Dear Carol: My 66-year-old mother lives alone in a condominium. She used to be quite pleasant, but now all she does is complain. Since she says that she’s lonely, I’ve suggested that she move to a local assisted living facility so she can make friends and have company when she wants it, but she refuses.

When we visit, all she does is complain and pick apart people who care about her. I’m too fat, my husband’s too quiet, her grandchildren have hair the wrong cut or color, the wrong jobs, the wrong friends, the wrong everything. Her sister lives 75 miles away but she got tired of being a target, so she doesn’t visit. Last week, Mom even accused me of stealing her earrings! How do we manage this? — TH.

Dear TH: It sounds as if your family has been trying to make your mother’s life better even though she treats them poorly. I’m sorry for you all.

First, I’m wondering if she’s in significant pain. Her behavior seems extreme to be stemming from pain alone, but it’s a question that should be asked.

Next, I’m wondering if she’s on a new medication. Some medications can cause this type of change in personality. Either of these possibilities requires that she see her doctor.

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Personality changes are a hallmark of some types of dementia, as well, frontotemporal dementia (FTD) being one type that comes to mind. Therefore, that’s something to consider if pain and/or medications don’t appear to be at fault.

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The hard part could be getting your mother to see a doctor because she likely thinks that she’s fine. If she admits to pain, you could suggest going with her to the doctor to see what can be done to make her more comfortable. This doctor should then review her medications to see if any of them could be causing this change.

Unless there is a medication that is known for causing such issues, the doctor is likely to schedule an appointment with a dementia specialist. A brilliant geriatrician friend of mine tells her patients that this is a routine requirement of everyone she sees, which often helps mitigate the unfortunate stigma that’s attached to cognitive issues. If your mother refuses to schedule an appointment, try writing a letter to her primary physician explaining the problem and then asking they contact her for a medication review or something that won’t scare her.

If it’s determined that your mom has some form of dementia, then you can work with the physician to become educated about her illness. The Alzheimer’s Association at has information about all types of dementia, though there are also disease-specific websites that are enormously helpful after a diagnosis has been made. Try to help the grandchildren understand that their grandmother’s behavior very likely stems from changes in her brain that she can’t help. Her love for them is still there.

You’re facing a hard time with your mom, TH. I hope that medical intervention can help.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at She can be reached through the contact form on her website.