Dear Thelma: My husband is very temperamental and forgetful in his senior years

  • Family
  • Sunday, 28 Apr 2019

It seems odd that an elderly person has to seek solace from you. I presume you are much younger than me. But here goes.

My husband and I have been married for nearly half a century. I am in my 70s and he is nearly 80. We have a married daughter and a son staying with us. We are pensioners.

During the last couple of years, we have been at loggerheads, on average once a week over trivial matters. He would show his temper by throwing and banging things around, scolding and shouting, sometimes with obscenities.

He would also drive at break-neck speed, knowing that I have a weak heart. One careless or matter-of-fact word would send him flying off the handle.

Sometimes he seems considerate, sometimes he is very selfish and self-indulgent. He forgets important dates. On most occasions, I put up the white flag because life is short for us.

I don’t socialise much and my children avoid confronting him because of his temper. He also tries his best to avoid important family matters and decision-making situations.

Dear Thelma, what is the best thing for me to do whenever he throws a tantrum?


Isn’t it interesting that we think that “answers” come with age? Yet there are 22 people who have won Nobel Prizes before their 35th birthday and 16 of those are physicists and doctors.

But, let’s get to your question. Your husband is temperamental, cursing and throwing things about. He’s also a very dangerous driver. Finally, he appears to forget important dates. Put it all together in the context of his age, and my first thought is that he should be assessed for dementia.

I am not a medical doctor. However, as you know, there are certain brain diseases that are associated with ageing. The most famous of these is Alzheimer’s, a disease that leads to emotional problems including inexplicable bad temper and sudden rages, as well as trouble with memory and rational thinking.

As he’s trying to avoid making decisions, it may be that he knows something is wrong but he’s trying to hide it. Perhaps out of concern for you or fear.

My other thought is that he may be in pain. Long-term pain leads to depression and angry outbursts. It also consumes the mind, leading to absent-mindedness. Elderly people are more prone to arthritis, rheumatism and other problems.

So I’d ask, how is his health overall and is he hurting? Now, on the other hand, I may be jumping to conclusions simply because you mentioned his age. As we age, our characters can become more focused or exaggerated. A man who is snippy and moody when he’s 35 has a big chance of becoming habitually bad tempered when he’s 70.

So, I would suggest that if he has always been bad tempered, rude and thoughtless, then you may simply be seeing his character. But if he wasn’t like this before, that is important information.

My suggestion is this: Take away his car keys and stop him from driving. It doesn’t matter what’s going on with his health. What matters is that he’s driving dangerously. You cannot allow him to hurt or kill someone.

Also, speak to your family doctor and get her to run some simple tests and assessments. If she thinks there’s a problem, get her to recommend a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist or other appropriate specialist.

If your husband has a tantrum at the thought of going to see the doctor, I suggest you say you want yourself assessed and drag him with you on the principle of, “We’ll BOTH get tested, just in case.”

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. E-mail or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11, 46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name and address, and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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