Being the primary caregiver for a loved one with dementia can be extremely challenging and frustrating – even on the best of days. Your loved one with dementia can develop expressions that are not true to their character, have bag days or ask you questions over and over. Feeling frustrated is valid, however, it shouldn’t define how you feel and react to being a caregiver. Being conscious of when you start to have feelings of stress, anger or intolerance and knowing how to handle those emotions is key to a successful relationship with your loved one.
Here are a few ways you can be aware of and manage your frustration:
Take a Break
When caregiving for someone with dementia, you never know what the day will bring. One day, they could be telling you about stories from years and years ago in full detail, and the next, ask you what your name is. It’s a part of the disease – a lot of uncertainty. If you do find yourself becoming upset over these expressions, you need to be aware of your feelings enough to step back and take a break. Take a deep breath. Leave the room and count to 10. Your loved one is not trying to upset you. Acknowledge that you are frustrated and take a step back to regroup before you say or do something you may later regret.
Ask for Help
As a caregiver, you need to know your limits. Admitting that you are struggling and need help is not a weakness – caregiving is HARD. What you do for your loved one every day takes commitment, bravery, sacrifice, and most importantly, love. With that also comes being physically exhausted and mentally drained. However, no one expects you to take on a responsibility like this alone, and you need to let people know what you need and be ready to accept the help that you ask for. Requests for help can be as simple as asking to let you vent or going for a walk with you while the harder requests could be something like asking for a few days off or adjusting your work schedule. Good communication with your family members, friends, and even your boss or coworkers will allow you to ask for what you need and express how you are feeling. People cannot help you when they don’t know that you need help in the first place.
Modify Your Thinking
You may not be able to change the frustrating expressions that your loved one in showing, but you can change your reaction to that expression. This can take some practice, so we recommend starting with gratitude, as this can help you turn the negative into positive. Remember those things that your loved one did for your while you were growing up and keep the mindset of “returning the favor.” And, be gentle on yourself. You are in an extremely stressful situation and you are doing the very best you can. You are not responsible for a disease that is beyond your control, but you are responsible for how you react to it.
You’ve been told this your entire life: you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. Take time off to recharge when you need it, whether that is a massage, cleaning the house, afternoon coffee with friends, or taking a few days for a break. Try to continue pursuing your hobbies, interests, and passions that make you feel good about yourself. And try to maintain an exercise program, eat well, and get a good night’s sleep. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will be prone to higher levels of stress and frustration.
Caregiving for a loved one with dementia may feel like you are drowning, or just barely keeping your head above water. Don’t underestimate how draining this can be on you and your family. It’s important to care for yourself before you can care for others, and we hope some of these tips will be helpful in your journey.