Common Sense Caregiving: Trying to Keep Your Cool while Caregiving

Mr. Gary Joseph LeBlanc is a health columnist specializing in dementia care. He has authored over 350 articles on the subject.

It is a widely accepted fact that being a caregiver for someone living with dementia is an incredibly stressful undertaking. If this is you, then you know the amount of pressure can be emotionally crushing. Having been a caregiver myself, I accepted a long time ago that we're only human and, eventually, we likely will have a meltdown due to the incessant responsibilities upon our shoulders. It can happen to the best of us. Before we know it, harsh, injurious words come flying out of our mouths, and these expressions become directed toward the loved ones for whom we're unselfishly caring!

Sadly, I admit I was guilty of this myself. The very instant this happened, I yearned to be able to take those words back—to grab them out of the air and throw them in the trash where they truly belonged.

Sometimes my meltdown was caused by being asked the same question 20 times in 10 minutes or maybe being accused of stealing an object that never even existed. At that moment, this was just too much! Unfortunately, I had reached my boiling point.

The trick is to be able to anticipate when this is coming—and trust me, this is easier said than done. There was, however, a lesson for me.

I learned to find a "tension release" when I felt the burdens of caring for my dad whose Alzheimer's disease was starting to build. I would step outside and circle the house, doing some good ol' dirt kicking along the way. I know this sounds crazy, but it worked. Eventually, I would walk back into the house, shoes as dusty as can be, but with a newly composed state of mind.

Caregivers must learn when to take a “time out.” Do this, before things go too far. Constantly reminding ourselves that it's not our loved one's fault, that it's the disease, can help only so much. As caregivers, we need respite.

When I am conducting a speaking event on dementia care and someone in the audience asks about this, here is the advice I give: We must listen to the signals our bodies are giving us. Do not delay. Instead, locate some help as quickly as possible. At first you might be able to handle things on your own, but as dementia-related diseases advance caregiving becomes a multi-person job. Be proactive. Start searching for options before the problems arise.

Consider calling Alzheimer's organizations based in your area. Explain your circumstances to them. They might be able to point you in the right direction to find helpful local resources. Also, your church might have some willing volunteers who may cover for you so that you can get that well-deserved break.

Respite is crucial! Do not beat yourself up with "caregiver guilt" when you make any unfortunate mistakes. Take a step back, apologize and start the conversation over again.

Concentrate on making the situation better and put aside an incident that just happened. Caregiver guilt will eat you alive if you let it. We have enough on our plates—actually too much, which is exactly why things can take a bad turn for a minute or two. As is often and truthfully said, we are only human.

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