Cheryl Greenberg, Ed.D., works as a coach, or guide, for seniors and their families as they consider and plan for changes in their personal and work lives. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-202-5669.
As caregivers, we want to support people living with dementia, but we are distressed when our help is met with anger and accusations. Why are they angry? How do we take care of our loved ones and ourselves in the face of this anger?
Why Anger and Accusations?
Dementia is the term for diseases of the brain that affect memory, thinking, and behavior. Over time, a person with dementia has difficulty holding conversations, taking part in activities, expressing needs, and simply interpreting what is going on around them.
For the people who have a dementia, the world may become a bewildering, scary, even hostile place. They may retreat from social interactions . . . or they may strike out at others . . . often thinking that the world is confusing because of something the caregiver is doing.
People who have a form of dementia may say, for example:
“I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. Don’t tell me when to bathe and eat!”
“I can drive! You have no right to take my car keys.”
“I love my home (perhaps thinking about their childhood home!) and you are making me move to your house! Why are you so awful?”
No doubt, being accused feels terrible for all caregivers; but when the caregiver is a spouse, partner, or child, the accusations feel even worse. There is love involved . . . and it is being rejected.
What Can You Do to Help Your Loved One and Feel OK Yourself?
Know and Understand the Diagnosis
Be sure your loved one has a thorough medical workup that identifies the type of dementia he or she has. Learn about the disease, its symptoms and changes over time so that you can understand your loved one’s behaviors, and respond as well as possible.
It is easiest to deal with a problem when you know what is going on.
See the World from Your Loved One’s Perspective
Dementia alters the way patients see and understand the world around them. Don’t try to convince your loved one that she doesn’t remember or understand correctly. Accept that her perspective is real for her. Try to understand her reality and use it as a starting point.
For example, when it is important for Mom to bathe, don’t explain the many reasons that good hygiene is important and don’t rush her to the shower. Try to understand why she is resisting: lack of privacy? lack of understanding about what the shower entails? Respond to her needs by arranging for as much privacy as possible or by gently introducing her to the shower.
Rather than trying to convince Dad that he can’t live in his childhood home again, understand that the memory of his home is real and even emotional for him. Talk with him about what the house looked like, what birthday parties and family gatherings were like there, and how his mother cooked his favorite meals. When he insists on going “home,” tell him you understand and, if you are comfortable with what may be a little fib, say you will take him there soon.
Take Care of Yourself, as well as Your Loved One
Try not to engage in struggles with your loved one. Give yourself time to relax and de-stress on a regular basis. Ask others to provide some of the caregiving support.
And most importantly, remember that the problem is not your loved one or you. It is the disease!