An often suppressed and sometimes unrecognized emotion in what's called the seven deadly emotions of Alzheimer's caregiving is caregiver resentment, a feeling of unfairness or irritation. And it's something caregivers rarely share with others.
When a caregiver offers help out of obligation rather than love, resentment builds against the recipient. Resentment also can build when a caregiver feels unappreciated, begins to have a "why me?" attitude, realizes that he or she has to alter their lifestyle or recognizes that his or her future plans have been upended.
Even the most compassionate caregivers experience frustration and resentment — it is a part of the human experience.
When a caregiver devotes time to the care of another, he or she puts aside activities and things they love to focus on the needs at hand. Perhaps unexpectedly, they must live in a different way when an Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis is given. While the caregiver copes with all the new responsibilities and tasks, over time he or she becomes drained of energy and joy. Resentment rears its ugly head.
When this happen, it is a signal for the caregiver to step back and reassess the caregiving situation and to try to incorporate more balance into his or her life. The caregiver should set aside some time to renew and re-energize, to take deep breaths, to have a cup of tea, soak in a hot bath or do whatever he or she can to acknowledge the feelings and then set them free.
Exercise releases feel-good hormones which can ward off resentment. Short walks, observing nature and the environment, can help the caregiver mentally regroup and promote a greater sense of well-being.
Caregivers should lean on trusted friends or family members and others going through a similar journey for support, make regular phone calls, go out to eat or just meet for coffee. Such gatherings can help relieve stress and help normalize the emotions they are feeling.
Many caregivers experience resentment and anger over the disease itself, an illness which can be unrelenting at times. To release their resentment, they need to forgive the illness and how it has intruded in their life.
Forgiving his or her loved one for needing constant care is also necessary. When one forgives, it can open up to hidden blessings the illness has brought, such as a closer relationship with the loved one and also sharing and reliving old memories together. Caregivers can turn to God or a higher power to release feelings of resentment. Prayer helps.
The caregiver needs to know that it is OK to feel resentful; he or she is still a good person.
Next week's column will deal with worry.
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.