From the U.S.: My father is a 75 year old who has been perpetually unemployed for 25 years and spends all day home alone–I imagine this affects his self worth. When he’s around larger groups of family or friends, he behaves fairly normally. But when around just me or my mom, he exhibits provocative, attention seeking behavior and doesn’t seem to be concerned about his reputation or how terrible his actions make him look. Does he have a psychological issue and is there anything we as his wife/daughter can do to make him better? Some of his behaviors:
He pants loudly with every breath. (We dragged him to the doctor for this and he does not have a medical condition)
Each night, he dramatically shouts out his prayers, often in the tone of urgency or distress–if we ignore it, he sounds louder and more distressed.
He has started thinking out loud about everything and having conversations with himself about mundane tasks around the house.
He laughs extremely loudly to himself in what appears to be an attempt to spark inquiry from those around him–basically, he wants us to ask, “What’s so funny?”
He has loud conversations with the stray animals in his back yard, and it appears he’s using animals as proxies with which to communicate with/be noticed by other people, like me or the next door neighbors.
He insists on improper social conduct that he knows people will disapprove of, seemingly to get attention and spark interactions, even if it’s negative attention. For example, he insists on wearing a mismatched suit to a wedding just to hear my mother correct him, he deliberately burps in close proximity to family members to get a rise out of them and then walks away, and so on.
What is up with this extremely obnoxious, attention seeking behavior? What can we do to help my dad be more normal again? What can we do to maintain our own sanity around such constant provocation?
A: I am so glad you wrote. If we were talking, the first question I’d ask is when all this obnoxious behavior started? If this is recent behavior, it might indicate the onset of dementia. But if it dates back all 25 years, then I wonder how it is that he has never been in some kind of treatment to help him be a fully functioning adult. As it is, it seems that the only way he knows he “counts” is by being the best at being worst. He certainly can’t be ignored.
I do suggest that you and your mother insist on a session or two with your dad with a licensed family therapist. (Your father isn’t likely to truthfully share your account of his behavior if you send him to a counselor on his own.) If he won’t go, you and your mom should go anyway. You need and deserve some help. The therapist will be able to help you all figure out if your dad needs treatment or if the family could benefit from establishing some new ways of interacting with him so it isn’t so distressing for you and your mom — or both.
I wish you well.