Why are old people grumpy?

I often respond to Google items that appear in my blog stats – this is one such: Why do old people get grumpy?

The answers to that question are legion – almost as many as there are old people. One thing that makes old people grumpy, though, is young people asking stupid questions like this! There are some valid generalisations, though.

It’s said, with a great deal of truth, that old age isn’t for wimps. When you reach a certain age, and this age is different for everybody, your body begins winding down towards death – in effect, it wears out – and the result is pain, which can often be severe and intransigent. And that’s for previously healthy people – those of us who are growing old with chronic illnesses, that we may have had for most of our lives, as in my case – and there are a lot more of us than you might think – are far worse off and, for us, the pain of the aging process, added to our existing pain, can be almost intolerable at times.

Then there are the psychological problems, as you comes to terms with the fact that your body can’t do things it could do only a couple of years ago, and that your brain isn’t as sharp as it once was, and you can’t do anything about it. The result, for many, is depression. I deal with it by not taking it personally, and not getting worked up about it. There is, after all, bugger all I can do about it. Update, August 15 2011: I wrote this post three years ago and, now 66, I firmly believe that for many, it’s a case of use it or lose it.

The principal reason, though, is the one that affects us all – the time of our death is getting closer every day.

When you’re in your teens, or twenties, your death feels unimaginably remote, and quite rightly, too – young people shouldn’t be focussed on their own mortality. Once they turn 40, most people realise that the time of their death is probably a hell of a lot closer than their birth. Hence the “mid-life crisis”. Once you hit 60, however, your own end is thrown into sharper focus, and that’s not a cheering prospect.

Then there’s sex. The vast majority of people under 40 view old people as asexual beings, when nothing is further from the truth – speaking personally, I’m still as horny as I ever was, but that leaves me with a problem – women of my own age, with few exceptions, do nothing for me. I know that’s ageist, and wrong – so sue me, it’s how I feel (Were I married, and was growing old with somebody, I might well feel different, but I’m not). But no matter how you feel, as you age, opportunity diminishes – either because it becomes more difficult to socialise, or because there are fewer available potential partners. Or both.

Mind you, there’s a world of difference between being a bit grumpy and developing a grudge against people who are younger and fitter than you. Some old people really are miserable, surly bastards but, in general, that’s probably not because they’re old – they’ve probably always been like that. Others, though, take aging extremely personally, and they really do develop a grudge against younger people, which is a bit sad. And a lot pointless.

Then you have the old farts who, because they have failed to die (yet!), feel that they have more rights than mere mortals, and use their age to get away with stuff that, when they were younger, would have earned them a good slap. And don’t get me started on those old pillocks who feel they have to tell everyone they come across how old they are. Here’s a tip – nobody cares!

For the most part, I confess I feel grumpy and disenchanted (the more so lately (15/8/11), as I appear to be dying), but – and this is important – I keep it to myself as much as I can. There is no point in bemoaning my lot, because it won’t change anything, so I do my best to be as outgoing and pleasant as I can, though I’m not saying I always succeed – it’s nobody’s fault that I feel shitty, so there’s no point in taking it out on everyone else. Unfortunately, too many old people take the opposite view, and the result is that the rest of us are tarred with the same brush – hence grumpy old people.

One thing that pisses off old people big time, though, is the belief, among young people, that they invented sex. No you didn’t – we did 😉


10 thoughts on “Why are old people grumpy?

  1. Ron, I just came across your post. There is one reason for geriatric grouchiness that you missed. And it can be the most helpful: the aging biological brain. Mood and personality are very dependent on brain functioning and, as we age, the synapses that send messages across nerve cells do not function as well, and there are not as many mood-enhancing natural drugs like serotonin available.

    If a son or daughter can look at his or her Mom or Dad in a grouchy mood and remember these things, it really helps to breed greater patience.

    • And mood-enhancing drugs, like alcohol, tend to have more problems than benefits. However, serotonin levels (and the moderation thereof), can be enhanced by supplementing with vitamin B6 (100-200mg daily). It works in much the same way as SSRIs, but without the side-effects.


      • one thing im trying out is 5-HTp for sleep an better mood in the day, I have been taking it for only 5 days, but they say it takes 21 days to feel a change, so im not giving up, but so far, im sleeping very well thank God

  2. Hey Ron! Couldn’t agree with you more … especially about the (non) attractiveness of the opposite sex … for my part – I am female and generally do not find old(er) men attractive! So these feelings are not just the domain of males.

    It’s not necessarily thinning hair or baldness, I have decided it is usually the energy that lacks and so there is nothing to be attracted to. Active people doing their own thing, whether physically or academic, are always interesting and attractive to others.

    If you are active or have interests, especially things that are interesting to others which invite their curiosity in you which then becomes a genuine interaction, that too gets the seratonin going. Nothing worse than being patronised when you get older (not that I have experienced that yet – but I am only in my ‘early’ old age – so I’m told! Aaggghhh!)

    And definitely huge stomachs are a turnoff – we girls were only pregnant for 9 months and usually couldn’t wait to get it over with! Having a stomach permanently pregnant is beyond my comprehension!

    I found your site trying to figure out why a male (platonic) friend of mine is becoming so contrary to everything, it is so annoying. All I know is I don’t want to retire if that is the way I will turn out! Good thing I enjoy what I do!


    • Hi Carol,

      Don’t be too hard on guys with large stomachs – it’s not necessarily their fault. Just as some women sag, develop saddlebags, and become pear-shaped as they age (despite their best efforts not to), some guys become apple-shaped, with an equator rather than a waistline (not to be confused with simply being fat, which looks quite different). It’s not always down to an excess of food, or beer, or a slobbish lifestyle (admittedly, it can be, but in my case one small meal a day for the last 6-7 years hasn’t even put a dent in it). Exercise doesn’t work, either – any more than it does for any other genetic predisposition.

      And speaking as one so afflicted, I don’t like it any more than you do (not least because it’s a condition that carries a freight of life-shortening problems, in my case, as it’s turned out, heart failure).


  3. Another possible theory as to why is that people who spend their whole lives being nice to others and doing what they believe to be the right thing eventually get to an age where they stop, look around at where everyone else is in life doing better than them whilst having lived their whole lives NOT “doing the right thing” and they get disenchanted.
    It’s the same as people who are assertive all their lives get into nursing homes and just go quiet.

    There must be a major psychological blow to people that, for everything they’ve done and everything they’ve achieved, they still end up in nursing homes or they don’t ultimately get out of life what they want…

    I’m sure everyone who gets there would feel the same because even if you lived life to the fullest, seeing the end of that life out in a nursing home would be depressing even for the happiest of people.


  4. Hi Ron, thanks for the insight…I know it’s a personal question, but I appreciate it when someone can explain things like this without getting too offended. I’ll keep these things in mind next time I have to deal with a grumpy older person.

    • Since I wrote this post I’ve paid more attention to old people, since I’m getting that way myself, and there’s one guy, in my local, who’s in his mid eighties (but a year ago would have passed for 50-something), who has aged dramatically of late – I think someone’s knocked over his portrait in the attic! And, previously outgoing, he’s now become surly and uncommunicative, and I don’t understand that.

      We all, once we turn 60-ish, have our own, mostly physical, problems (if you’ve read my posts going back about 3 weeks, I’ve come in for rather more than I anticipated), but I still feel strongly that they’re MY problems, nobody else’s, and there’s no excuse for my taking it out on everybody else by being a grouchy bugger. Becoming unpopular won’t make me feel any better!

  5. Hi Ron

    I very much enjoyed your article. I have several friends, as well as myself, who have become grumpy old men. We are alwys complaing about one thing or another.

    Don’t get me wrong, my friends are great guys who met many years ago when we played rugby together.

    I am thinking that I should start a ‘Grumpy Old
    Men’ club and organise some events that we could go to and have a good time as well as having a good old moan at life.

    What do you think?

    All the best


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