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What You Should Do When Your Elderly Mother Wants Constant Attention?
Brenda Peralta

Fact Checked

By Brenda Peralta, Registered Dietitian and Health Coach

Published On December 17, 2023

Senior Care

What You Should Do When Your Elderly Mother Wants Constant Attention?

Is your elderly mother seeking constant attention? Despite wanting to fulfill all her needs, are you finding it difficult? After all, you also have to take care of your home and family.  

Luckily, there are ways to help you deal with this situation without straining the relationship with your mother. In this article, we’ll review the causes of your mother’s attention-seeking. In addition, you’ll learn how to set boundaries with your elderly mother and give her the attention she needs without enabling her. 

What Are The Causes of Your Elderly Mother’s Attention-Seeking Behavior?

With age, your mother is likely to feel more vulnerable and require extra care. This is especially relevant if she suffers from a chronic illness. In fact, in one study,1 70% of older adults exhibited health-seeking behaviors. 

There are several reasons why your elderly mother demands attention. Understanding these reasons can help you approach the subject with empathy and understanding. Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Physical limitations. Research shows that almost 35%2 of older adults struggle with mobility issues. Losing strength and flexibility can make everyday activities more challenging. As a result, they may require more assistance for every day tasks. 

  • Loneliness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in three older adults3 feels lonely. It may be because they live alone, have lost their partner, or their families are far away. This feeling of isolation may make the elderly reach out to you more. 
Old Man with food on the table

  • Memory problems. Almost 40%4 of the elderly experience memory problems. It can range from mild memory loss to dementia. This means they may rely on the few family members they do remember for their daily tasks. 
Confused old man

  • Health issues. Chronic illnesses or other health problems can make the elderly feel more vulnerable. Thus, they may rely on others for constant care. For example, they may need reminders on when to take their medications, when to eat, and when to stay hydrated. 
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  • Emotional distress. Some elderly feel anxious and upset when they are left alone. It may be because they had a bad experience in the past (like falling) or want to prevent it from happening. 
Emotional Distress

Is Your Mother’s Attention-Seeking Behavior Normal?

Now, you may be wondering if your mother’s attitude is normal or not. After all, there may be a fine line between signs of attention-seeking behavior and normal behavior for the elderly. 

For example, it’s normal for an elderly mother to miss their children and grandchildren. This can result in an occasional message or phone call. However, the problem arises when the calls and messages are several times throughout the day. 

It is also normal for a child to help their elderly mother with their daily tasks and health issues. Nonetheless, it is not normal for the mother to demand their child to be by their side 24/7. 

Finally, while it is normal for your mother to want company, they should understand that you have a life of your own. It is not normal for them to get angry or upset when you spend time with someone else. 

Signs of An Elderly Mother’s Attention-Seeking Behavior 

If you suspect that your elderly mother is constantly seeking attention, there are signs5 you can look out for. 

  • Neediness. Your mother may become needy and expect you to attend to her every need. She may become upset if you cannot help her out. 
Old lady sharing a good time

  • Excessive phone calls or messaging. Your mother may call or text frequently, often several times during the day. She may become anxious or upset when you don’t answer the phone or respond immediately. 
Old women on phone

  • Attention-seeking behaviors. Your mother may engage in exaggerated attention-seeking behaviors. These include screaming, making loud noises, exaggerating symptoms, behaving dramatically, or forgetting to take their medications. 
Women with hair rolls

  • Manipulation. She uses tactics like guilt-tripping or emotional blackmail to get attention. 
Two women sitting in anger

  • Jealousy or resentment. If your mother doesn’t get the attention she wants, she may become upset or jealous of the person you are with. 
A couple in stress

  • Interrupting conversations. If you are talking with someone, your mother may interrupt a conversation to share her thoughts or feelings. She may become upset if she feels ignored. 

There may be times when you may not be completely sure if your elderly mother is showing signs of attention-seeking behavior. If this is the case, speak with a healthcare professional for them to guide you and determine what is the best course of action. 

How To Talk To Your Elderly Mother About Attention-Seeking Behavior 

Once you determine that your elderly mother is constantly seeking attention and it’s affecting your life, the best thing you can do is talk about it. However, you need to do this carefully to prevent damaging your relationship. It may be scary to talk about the situation, but opening up and being honest about your feelings can make things better for both of you. Here’s a stepwise guide you can follow:

  • First, reach out to your mother in a loving tone. You don’t want to sound like you are complaining. Instead, you are reaching out to find a healthy balance between the two. Remind her that while you love spending time with her, you have other responsibilities to take care of. 
  • In a calming tone, explain how her constant attention affects your life. Here, your mother may start feeling upset. No matter what, make sure you stay calm. The calmer you are, the more likely she will be to stay calm and respond positively to the situation.  Next, make her part of the conversation. Once you express how it is affecting your life, make sure you give her some space for her to talk about what is bothering her. Talk about what she is experiencing and feeling. Make sure to stay empathetic and receptive during the conversation. This way, she can open up to you. 
  • Lastly, it’s time to come up with a solution. Listen to what she wants from you, but set some boundaries on what you are willing to give. Ensure you reinforce that you love her and that she will never be alone. 

How To Set Boundaries With Your Elderly Mother 

One of the most important things you can do is set boundaries. It may sound scary to say no to your mother. But remember, it’s not healthy (for you or her) to give her all your time. 

But how can you set boundaries without affecting your relationship? Here are some suggestions:

  • Set aside time for your family and friends. Tell her when you will give her time and when you will be with other people. 
  • Set time for yourself. If you are constantly taking care of someone, who is taking care of you? That is why self-care is important. Make sure you set some time aside for yourself. It can be reading a book, walking, or any other activity that can help you release stress. 
  • Ask her to call or text at certain times. Let her know that she can call you at any time in case of an emergency. For other things, she can only reach you at certain times during the day. 
  • List your tasks and her tasks. Go over the tasks that you will do for her and what tasks she will do on her own. 

Remember that taking care of yourself is going to help you take care of your elderly mother. For that reason, make sure you stick to the rules. Don’t cave into every whim they have. 

Practical Solutions For Dealing With Your Elderly Mother’s Attention-Seeking Behavior 

Talking with your elderly mother and setting boundaries is just part of the solution. You can do other things to make the process easier to handle. For example, you can: 

  • Help them find activities. Boredom is one reason why your elderly mother wants constant attention. Find ways for your mother to stay busy. Talk to her about her interests and come up with a solution together for activities she can start doing. 
Old man in jolly mood

  • Seek help from another caregiver. You can hire professional help to keep her company and help her with daily chores. But, make sure you talk to her about it and do the process slowly so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed and lonely. 
Women sharing happy times with a girl

  • Reinforce positive behavior. You can reinforce positive behavior with rewards or treats. For example, if your mother likes to get her nails done, have a girl’s afternoon if she doesn’t message you or call you while you are working. 
Women and nurse in discussion

  • Delegate tasks. Involve the rest of the family (if possible) to help you out with her tasks. 
An elderly man carrying her partner on back

  • Use technology. There are great apps that can help you keep an eye on your mother. For example, you can set reminders for when she needs to take her medication. 
An elderly women holding a phone

How To Find Help And Support For Caregivers Of Elderly Parents

If you still struggle with the attention your mother needs, you can always ask for professional help. Some support groups can help you manage the situation and provide expert tips to make the living situation easier to handle. 

Here are some resources to check to help you improve the quality of life of you and your elderly mother. 

Support groups can bring people together. Thus, it can help fulfill your mother’s physical and emotional needs.

However, research shows that only 20%6 of older adults take advantage of these support groups. So, it’s vital to know the available support groups and give your elderly mother the tools she needs. 

Conclusion

Caring for an elderly mother who constantly needs attention can be draining. However, you do it with the right tools. 

Begin by understanding the causes of your mother’s neediness to help find a solution. A professional can help you understand the situation better and provide you with a more personalized approach to your problems. 

Finally, make sure you are strict about the boundaries you set. Allowing some wiggle room will make it easier for her to break. Also, finding the right support group can make the situation easier to handle. 

Sources

    1. Duy HM, Lee J, Han W, Rajaguru V, Jang SY. The Health-Seeking Behavior of the Elderly with Non-Communicable Diseases in Coastal Areas of Vietnam. Healthcare. 2023;11(4):465. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare11040465
    2. Freiberger E, Sieber CC, Kob R. Mobility in Older Community-Dwelling Persons: A Narrative Review. Frontiers in Physiology. 2020;11(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2020.00881
    3. World Health Organization. Social Isolation and Loneliness. World Health Organization. Published 2021. https://www.who.int/teams/social-determinants-of-health/demographic-change-and-healthy-ageing/social-isolation-and-loneliness
    4. Small GW. What we need to know about age-related memory loss. BMJ. 2002;324(7352):1502-1505. doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7352.1502
    5. Teo K, Churchill R, Riadi I, Kervin L, Wister AV, Cosco TD. Help-Seeking Behaviors Among Older Adults: A Scoping Review. Journal of Applied Gerontology. 2022;41(5):073346482110677. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/07334648211067710
    6. Siegler EL, Lama SD, Knight MG, Laureano E, Reid MC. Community-Based Supports and Services for Older Adults: A Primer for Clinicians. Journal of Geriatrics. 2015;2015(678625):1-6. doi:https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/678625
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Brenda Peralta

Written By

Brenda Peralta

Registered Dietitian and Health Coach

Brenda is a Registered Dietitian and health coach with over nine years of clinical experience. But besides being a registered dietitian, she has certifications in sports nutrition, precision nutrition, diabetes education, women’s health specialist, fertility advisor, and gut health.

Comments (1)

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