Human beings are not perfect, and Alzheimer's caregivers cannot expect themselves to maintain a perfect attitude all the time.
Caregiving is a complex task and inevitably brings a flood of emotions, and anger is an emotion that remains a particular challenge. But caregivers should recognize that chronic anger can have physical side effects, such as high blood pressure, heart attack and heart disease, digestive-tract disorders and headaches.
The person with Alzheimer's or dementia can become agitated and even aggressive at times, and that can cause a great deal of stress for the caregiver, making his or her role very difficult and overwhelming.
Because the caregiver cannot control these situations, he or she may begin to feel angry. That's a normal reaction. Most caregivers at one time or another feel like clinching their fists or even screaming in frustration. The key is to find ways to cope with these angry emotions.
The caregiver needs to remember that actions of the affected individual has nothing to do with him or her. Sometimes understanding the reasons for a behavior can soften the caregiver's angry reaction.
One idea is to use redirection to resolve the affected individual's anxiety, such as giving him or her something enjoyable to do. That can relieve some of the caregiver's frustration which can lead to anger.
Caregivers need to recognize their worth and practice self-forgiveness. When they get frustrated or angry, caregivers should take a moment to acknowledge the hours of loving care they have given, including the many times they have exhibited great patience and compassion. And, caregivers should stop and recognize that they are making a difference in their loved ones' lives, and that they play a significant role in that.
When built-up anger is unexpressed, the caregiver can experience depression and anxiety. And when the anger explodes, it can jeopardize relationships and be harmful to others.
Caregivers should manage their anger by learning to express it in healthy ways. Exercise and deep-breathing exercises are ways to approach impending anger into a more calmer state.
Caregivers need to pay attention to their mental and physical well-being and be proactive in finding resources to assist in their caregiving responsibilities, such as respite care and support services from healthcare providers. The biggest mistake caregivers make is not taking time taking care of themselves.
Punching a pillow or going into another room and letting it all out are healthy releases for anger and can be very therapeutic. Journaling is also a good exercise for Alzheimer's caregivers, as writing feelings down can promote a sense of well-being and also be cathartic.
Caregivers have every reason to feel angry at times, as they are fighting for the lives of their loved ones as well as the right to reclaim their own lives.
Ultimately, the emotion of anger is connected to love. Caregivers are angry because they are losing someone they love who is precious to them, because their lives have been interrupted, because their loved one has this debilitating disease, and because they are learning a new way of loving and living with an individual who is forgetting about loving and living.
Next week's column will be about defensiveness, another of the seven deadly emotions of Alzheimer's caregiving.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at firstname.lastname@example.org.