It’s Time to Defeat Grumpy Old Person Syndrome

We, mature people, really get a bad rap. All too frequently we hear those comments about a grumpy old man or a grumpy old woman. Younger people think that’s natural with aging. When you get older, you get grumpy.

When I started thinking about grumpy old people, my memory took me back to my teenage years. Each fall my friends and I would play touch football on a street about a block from my home. It was only 2 blocks long. There was very little traffic on it. That made it ideal for touch football.

A two story home was on the corner of the street.  A man in his forties lived there along with his elderly mother. By my and my friends’ standards, his mother was old. However, she was probably in her late 60’s.

As you can imagine, teenagers playing football have a tendency to get pretty noisy. The noise probably irritated this old woman. Routinely she would get a bucket of water and throw it from a porch on the second floor down on the street as we played.

Needless to say, we teenagers saw her as she prepared to do this.  So, we stopped the game briefly until she emptied the bucket. We laughed and continued playing.

As I have aged, other grumpy and irritable people have crossed my path.

One of my aunts who died in her late 80’s was confined to a nursing home for the last 4 years of her life. The only visitors she had were me and my daughters. We lived 700 miles away and could only visit her once or twice a year. Her son and daughter-in-law lived much closer but never visited.

I noticed as time passed during her time at the home, my aunt became very irritable. This was probably because of her isolation and loneliness.  Her irritability and resentment were directed towards her son. By the time she died, they were not speaking.

More recently a good friend who is in his late 80’s has become irritable with his family. He has had mild dementia for years. Over the last 15 years he has become irritable. His children and grandchildren don’t act the way he wants them to. That upsets him.

First it was his sons. Then it was his grandsons and granddaughters. Finally, he also has gotten irritable with one of his daughters and even his girlfriend. My hope for years has been his family and his girlfriend forgive him and his relationships with them improve before he dies.

People over 50 Are Happier Than Younger People

As I started to read more about irritability and grumpiness, I found it’s not normal to be irritable and grumpy. It has been found that people 50 and older are generally happier than younger people. Their lives are more enjoyable. The percentage of grumpy old people is actually low.

If that’s true, then what causes some older men and women to become grumpy and irritable?

There are a variety of reasons. Here are some:

  • Some have not had the life they expected. They expected more out of either their work or personal life.
  • Others do not have enough income to live comfortably in retirement. During the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, many older people lost their jobs. It took some a long time to get new jobs. Frequently these new jobs paid much less than those they had. They retired with a lower Social Security benefit and little or no savings.
  • Some have chronic medical conditions or disabilities. Health deteriorates with age. Some people have constant pain. Others are disabled. They cannot do what they did previously nor do what they wanted after they retired.
  • Others experience hearing loss. Many get frustrated because they can’t hear and take it out on others.
  • Some are isolated and lonely. As they get older, their friends start to die. The longer they live, the fewer friends they have. If they outlive all of them, suddenly, they have no one and they find themselves isolated and alone.

This can be particularly devastating for men who typically have one or 2 close friends. If those die before them, it’s an overwhelming loss.  If, by chance, they outlive their wives, they have no one.

Women are normally more social. They make new friends more quickly. Loss of friends typically does not start to affect them. until they reach their late 80’s.

Those living in nursing homes experience isolation and loneliness more than others, especially those who rarely get visitors and have no social lives.

  • People with Alzheimer’s and Dementia are prone to be grumpy and irritable. This may be a side effect of the condition. It also could be that as these people see their mental faculties slipping away, they get angry because they can’t stop it.

If You Find Yourself Getting Irritable or Grumpy, What Can You Do?

There are many stock answers. Here are a few.

  • Make new friends
  • Get a new hobby.
  • Get out of the house
  • Volunteer and help others.

There are problems with each.

  • Many have difficulty making new friends.
  • Some may not know what hobby they’ll enjoy.
  • Where should they go when they get out of the house?
  • What type of volunteer opportunities are there and where do they find out about them?

When you look at these more closely, there is something else here – an underlying problem. Normally that is anxiety and depression. That problem has to be dealt with first.

You may be like me. As we were growing up, there was a stigma connected with anxiety and depression. They were mental illnesses and people who had them were locked away.

We never realized anxiety and depression may not be acute and we could not admit we suffered from them, especially to ourselves. So, we never talked about what was bothering us.  Some of us even dealt with them by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. That led to addiction.

Our society is now at the point where this stigma is disappearing. Mental health issues are being viewed as any other illnesses.

It is ok to talk to a friend about what you are going through. You may even benefit from seeing a counselor. There may be one at your church or one your pastor can refer you to.

If they can’t help or you don’t want them to know about the challenge you are having, you can call the Peer Recovery Call Center at the Mental Health Association of East Tennessee. They will help you find a counselor. The phone number is 865-584-9125.

What if One of Your Parents or an Older Friend is Grumpy or Irritable?

The best thing you can do is to talk to them about what you are seeing. Find out what they feel is causing it.

If it is a parent and you don’t feel comfortable talking to them about this, ask another relative, friend or someone they respect to talk to them about it.

Once you know what is causing the problem, you can work with them on how to correct it.

We Can Make the Golden Years Great

We have always heard the later years in life referred to as the Golden Years Let’s make that a reality. If you are a younger person reading this, please help a parent, older relative or friend start to enjoy their lives more fully.


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is