Everyone loses their temper once in a while and caregivers are no exception. Most are under an incredible amount of pressure, and they are not immune to letting their emotions get the best of them. After all, people say things to each other that they don’t mean under far less stressful circumstances. Of course, dementia often adds several extra layers of complexity to any relationship.
I suppose I could say a dementia patient won’t remember what is said to them in haste, because most won’t. When a blow-up happens (and, in truth, it happens far more than is ever admitted), I am sure the family member or caregiver feels even worse afterwards than the patient does.
I am certainly not condoning yelling at a dementia patient, but let’s be honest here. We are all human. No one can fully understand what a person caring for a dementia patient goes through. Yes, the patient is constantly dealing with the disease, but their loved ones are, too. To say that family members or caregivers do not and should not ever lose their composure is simply unrealistic. What is important in a scenario like this is for caregivers to recognize their limits and take things down a notch.
Anyone who has been married for any length of time will tell you it’s not always a bed of roses. Some couples have civil disagreements, while others may have knock-down drag-out arguments. In the end, most feel sorry for what was said. Again, I am not condoning this behavior, but we deal in reality here. To think that disagreements never happen between significant others is just being naïve.
The patience of Job—that’s what it takes to be a caregiver, especially for a loved one with dementia. Even then, there are times you simply can’t cope with the stress, the fatigue or the repetitive routines. Something as simple as an incontinence accident or listening to the same story several times in a row can tip a weary family caregiver over the edge.
Please take my advice as a person living with dementia: don’t beat yourself up over this. I have always been an advocate for the patient because I know what they go through. However, I am not naïve enough to think that tempers will not flare in elder care.
Trying to calm an agitated, confused person and diffuse the situation is an endless job for a dementia caregiver. They rely on redirection, validation, music, medication, bribery, changes in environment, whatever may possibly work to pacify a restless loved one. When nothing seems to do the trick, this is when the anger, frustration and stress begin to build. Beyond feeling exasperated, many begin to feel powerless and trapped. These well-intended efforts to soothe a distraught loved one can fall flat. That is the nature of dementia, and, with some patients, this distress never ends.
Whether you are cut out to be a caregiver or not, there comes a point when the pressure is just too much. But the truth is that you do have power to change your situation. Respite, medications, placement in a long-term care facility—there are many options available to patients and their caregivers.
Instead of feeling guilty and trying to power through the stress and frustration, be realistic. There should be no guilt or shame involved in making a decision that is best for you and your loved one, whether the answer is temporary respite or permanent placement in senior living. Do whatever you must to ensure you don’t lash out at your care recipient again.
I hold our caregivers in the highest regard, but I also hold them to the highest standard. I know most hold themselves to even more stringent standards, simply because of how much they care. Unfortunately, this can backfire and caregivers wind up working themselves into the ground. If occasional snaps begin to turn into larger, more frequent outbursts, it is time to investigate other options for a loved one’s care. Increasing anger and resentment are signs that caregiver burnout is peeking through, and there is no benefit of having a frazzled, overworked caregiver. There’s just not. It’s bad for the caregiver and it’s bad for the patient.