My grandfather (85 years old) is affected by Alzheimer disease, and although it is still a mild form, it is now visible in the conversation as he often struggles to remember a name or loses his train of thoughts while telling a story.

My grandmother loves him (at least I think) but surprisingly she has become very aggressive towards him since he has been sick. She shows signs of impatience while he looks for words, sermonises him when he does not understand something, etc. She does it in public too. I think her behavior towards him almost qualifies as abusive.

That makes me very sad, as I wish he had more support and care for the last years of his life. It is disheartening to see him giving up on participating in the conversation, as if he finds it simpler to stay quiet and avoid her aggressive reactions.

My grandmother clearly understands his situation and she is otherwise a very nice person, so I still have hope she could behave nicer to him (although I don't understand why she mistreats him this way). I would like to bring the topic with her but do not want to sound too judgmental / accusing. Any thoughts about how I could ask her to be nicer to her husband?

  • 1
    Is he able to do things on his own still, or does he require a caregiver to be around all the time (and if so is that her)? Also, ouch -- I've seen a few couples in my congregation go through this and it's awful. Oct 14, 2018 at 21:35
  • Thanks. I would say he depends on her quite a lot, particularly for making decisions (he is no longer used to making decisions himself).
    – Oliv
    Oct 15, 2018 at 4:56
  • 4
    Sounds like she is super stressed and probably should consider some help around the home to take the pressure off. Where do you live because services vary so much between countries (here in the uk there’s loads of support for this) Oct 15, 2018 at 7:39

3 Answers 3


Frame Challenge: You shouldn't. You should, instead, ask about how your grandmother is coping and try to support her.

Alzheimer's is an extremely challenging disease to cope with, for everyone involved. If you asker her straight out whether or not she should be nicer and more patient with your grandfather I would bet she would say yes. Knowing that that is the case does not in any way make it easier to actually do, and knowing that she is failing to do something she knows she ought to do probably only makes her feel more stressed and drained.

Consider from your grandmother's point of view: her husband, who was an intimate part of her life for a long time, is now different from who he was (at least to some degree), and those changes are going to continue to happen and compound one another. Any important tasks he used to handle are now dumped into her lap. A lot of routines and habits of communication and living are now disrupted. Instead of enjoying their lives together, as she probably imagined would be the case, she has to be responsible for an adult that can't care for himself properly and that is also somewhat unaware of his increasing limitations.

And so when there are clear signs of your grandfather's disease it may be triggering all sorts of negative feelings for her, along with the knowledge that this will consume increasing amounts of her life at the same time that any plans or dreams she may have had are crumbling.

That's hard to deal with, and especially if they are not in an assisted living facility she's not going to be getting much of a break from that. Ever. That's an incredibly difficult situation, and it's not surprising that her frustrations may boil over, nor that some specific behaviors (which are themselves the most noticeable signs of the disease) might become symbols of the whole situation to her. It's unlikely that she suddenly dislikes your grandfather, or that she has coincidentally taken up bullying as a hobby.

So there are a few possible paths. If you think that your grandmother has simply become a worse person (in effect, whatever the actual genesis is) and is abusing your grandfather then it's important to get external help, probably from a legal or social work angle. If you think that she's buckling under some severe and intense stress, then treating her compassionately (instead of accusing her of failing at an obvious task) is a better way to go.

I've recently gone through a very similar situation with my own grandparents, and just indicating that you can appreciate your grandmother's new burdens is likely to help a great deal. Any further assistance you can offer, such as helping with tasks your grandfather used to do, lightening her burden by helping with housework or other mundane chores, will be greatly appreciated and are probably a good avenue towards the better situation you are hoping for.


I sadly experienced the same thing with my grandparents a couple of years ago.

Your grandmother is going through a lot of stress and emotional distress. Dealing with Alzheimer, seeing a person you love slowly decaying is terrible. Chances are that she doesn't know how to deal with it, and her reactions are the way she copes with it. She does need help, but resources are usually scarce. And keep in mind that she's from another generation where mental health was seen as a huge taboo and asking for help was hugely regarded as admitting insanity.

Things aren't going to get better and might become ugly quite fast. In the third phase of the disease, your grandfather will become more disoriented, incontinent, and even aggressive, mean or violent with your grandmother. If she's in denial, she will want to keep him home. Dealing with this will greatly tax your grandmother's health and wellbeing. It is important that your family be there to help her and move your grandfather to specialized care units when it will be time.

Chances are, your grandmother is not willingly being mean to your grandfather. You could ask her how she's doing and if she needs help, letting her know that you've seen her being aggressive with your grandfather and that it worries you about her.

I wish you strength. Alzheimer is a terrible disease.

  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review Oct 15, 2018 at 17:41
  • Here, added a clearer answer.
    – werfu
    Oct 15, 2018 at 18:03
  • Can you add more to the answer? Why do you believe this is a good course of action? What effects will this make? What if the grandmother is indeed aggressive intentionally and could be aggressive to OP? What will the OP need to do then?
    – ElizB
    Oct 16, 2018 at 0:55

I went through this recently. The emotions and stress is high, your grandmother is having her life and her partners life changed in radical ways. There is nothing that can be done to fix the situation (there is no cure for this disease).

Whatever you do, don't be upset with your Grandma. You can't understand what she is going through right now. You also can't control how she controls her own emotions and actions during this period.

The best thing you can do is be physically and emotionally supportive. Don't be accusative or upset or resentful. Be the optimistic one when everyone else is sad. Be the reliable one. Block out your subjective emotional opinions and just work towards getting everyone through the situation with minimal emotional trauma.

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