4 Ways to Boost an Older Parent’s Mood

Learn how to address negative behaviors so you can enjoy more quality time together.

March 01, 2024

6 min read

Senior man and granddaughter laughing

Older adults face numerous challenges that can negatively impact their mood as they age, including isolation, illness, decreased independence and physical and cognitive decline. Even the most cheerful and even-keeled person can fall into extended periods of depression, and symptoms of depression in older people often manifest as crankiness, anger or irrationality.

If your parent is displaying negative behaviors, it can be frustrating and emotionally draining, but there are some steps you can take to help improve their mood so you can have more quality time together.

1. Listen with empathy

To help boost your parent’s mood, it’s important to understand what they’re going through. Aging often brings life changes that are difficult for anyone to adjust to, like memory issues, decreased independence, loss of mobility and a shrinking circle of friends and family. In addition, the brain is going through neurological changes that can make an older adult more susceptible to depression.

“As we enter our senior years, the hormones and chemicals that make us happy aren’t being produced as much as they used to be,” says Catherine Schneider, Director of Memory Care Operations and Programming at Atria Senior Living. “So when we talk about our parent’s mood, or how our parent is being cranky and negative all the time, it’s important to remember that their brains are going through real changes.”

Taking the time to listen to your parent when they’re frustrated or upset can go a long way toward making them feel heard and validated. The more you understand their feelings, the better you’ll be able to meet – and even anticipate – their needs.

2. Incorporate physical activity into their routine

Finding ways to help your parent stay active isn’t just good for their physical health – it can play a crucial part in staving off feelings of depression and increasing happiness. Research suggests a close link between our health and our happiness, a connection that grows more significant as we age.

Regular exercise can counteract the neurological changes the brain is going through. Physical activity can boost serotonin levels, helping mitigate depression and other mood disorders.

These effects can be even more beneficial if you combine physical activity with being outdoors or in the company of friends or family. Gardening, light exercise and taking walks – even short ones – can go a long way toward reducing depression in older adults and improving their mood.

3. Help them maintain independence

The loss of independence and autonomy has a big impact on how older adults feel about their lives. They’re at a stage where common daily activities may be more difficult to do without assistance. This can lead to understandable frustration, anxiety and depression in seniors.

One way to help a parent retain their sense of independence is to shift the focus from the tasks and activities they can’t do on their own to the ones that they can. This may mean simply giving them more time and space to do things without assistance – even when your impulse may be to lend a hand.

“If they can still do things like prepare meals or get in and out of a car by themselves, don’t interfere or hover over them,” Schneider says. “It may be tempting to help them and get things done faster, but the longer they’re able to do these tasks on their own, the more independent they’ll feel.”

4. Keep them socially engaged

Older adults often suffer from loneliness and isolation, which leads to depression and other mood disorders. In fact, studies suggest the overall health effects of loneliness for seniors is roughly equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Spending more time with your parent can help ease this sense of isolation. Visiting more often, accompanying them on walks and errands, and including them in more family gatherings all have beneficial effects.

You can also help your parent find other means of social engagement. Community centers and places of worship often host social events that are catered to the interests of older adults, such as book clubs and game nights. Your parent can also connect with people all over the world – in the comfort of their home – through social media and other online resources.

Another effective way to keep your parent socially engaged is through mentor and volunteer programs. These have the added benefit of providing a sense of purpose, which older adults sometimes struggle to find, and research suggests that friendships with younger people can boost the mood and energy level of older adults.

“People who are involved in civic engagement and giving back to their communities are healthier,” Schneider says. “These activities can distract you from whatever feelings of negativity you’re dealing with by putting your focus on helping others.”

Focus on the positive

By concentrating on activities and connections that counteract negative moods and promote positive ones, you can continue to maintain a healthy and rewarding relationship with your parent.

“Instead of fixating so much on the challenges of aging, focus on all the good things that come with it,” Schneider says. “Getting older means you’ve acquired all these experiences and insights, and there’s real value in being able to enjoy and share them with others.”

By listening to your parent’s needs and concerns – and finding ways to help them stay independent, active and socially engaged – you can increase their overall happiness and make the time you spend with them more fulfilling for you both.

Illustration of three men gardening, one with a wheelbarrel of supplies, one water flowers and one planting flowers

Not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to learn when you become a caregiver, and you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, many of the experiences you’ll encounter are common, and we've pulled together resources to help you along your journey.

Top Articles