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5 Tips to Cope with Caregiver Anger

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February 4, 2016

How do you react when your senior parent or spouse asks you what day it is for the thousandth time that morning? Do you sometimes feel like screaming?

Or what about when your formerly sweet wife suddenly hits you in the face with her fist as you are trying to dry her off after a shower? If it’s the first time she’s done this, you might shrug it off. But what about the tenth time? Or the twentieth? Do you feel like shouting “stop that!” at her?

In a best-case scenario, caring for a senior loved one would bring the two of you together in an intimate bond, providing memories you could cherish long after they’re gone. But all too frequently, the rigors of caregiving combined with the erratic behaviors exhibited by seniors with dementia or other health issues can lead caregivers to feel rage and other so-called “negative” emotions.

One member of the Remember for Alzheimer’s Facebook community put it this way:

“I hope and wish that my wife’s dementia had brought us closer together. It hasn’t. In fact, she blames me for her present limitations, weeps, complains, hits me and does little (in my opinion) to help herself. While I realize this behavior is all disease-inspired, it has become increasingly hard for me not to feel anger, disgust and resentment. I have become a full-time caregiver to a person who looks like my wife but has become an angry, disgruntled stranger.”

Dementia is not the only condition that can cause changes in a senior’s behavior. Medical conditions like stroke—or even the side effects of a medication—can alter a senior family member’s personality and ability to reason. Stubbornness and irrationality on the part of a senior can create a perfect storm of impatience and anger in a family caregiver. When you spend all your energy getting your loved one to shower and use the bathroom, only to find feces smeared on the walls later that evening, you might feel like blowing your stack in fury. “Just when I thought my day was finally over, now I get to spend another hour cleaning up this disgusting mess!”

When family caregivers open up about their emotions, they are quick to talk about their feelings of stress, sadness and depression. But they don’t often talk about the anger, impatience and even rage that can flare in an instant. Who hasn’t snapped once or twice during their caregiving journey and then relentlessly beat themselves up for it later?

If you have ever felt like clenching your fists and screaming in frustration, you are not alone. Most caregivers probably experience these strong emotions from time to time. The key lies in coping with them.

Tip One: Forgive Yourself

Don’t expect yourself to maintain a perfectly patient attitude at all times. This is unrealistic. Human beings are not perfect.

If you experience an episode of impatience or anger, forgive yourself. Try to give yourself credit for the thousands of times you have exhibited great patience—and for the hours and hours of loving care you provide to your senior family member.

Tip Two: Think Like a Toddler

If you are caring for a three-year-old, you probably do not shout angrily at them because they cannot comprehend the concept of waiting another two hours for dinner. Instead, you likely re-direct their attention and give them a snack.

Toddlers display very little self-regulation, and they can’t follow any sort of complex logic. Seniors with cognitive issues can exhibit this type of behavior, too.

Your parent, spouse or other senior family member obviously is not a child—and you should always strive to treat them with the dignity and respect you reserve for adults. But their cognitive function may correlate more closely to that of a toddler than an adult.

If your senior loved one is driving you crazy in the moment, ask yourself how you would treat a toddler in the same situation. You may find you have more patience at the thought of dealing with a small child who is having a tantrum than you can muster for coping with an adult displaying the same behavior.

Tip Three: Get Something to Eat

Speaking of tantrums, anyone who has raised children knows the highest probability for a meltdown occurs in the late afternoon, when a child is hungry. This is partly due to a natural drop in blood sugar levels that occurs when a person hasn’t eaten for a few hours. Low blood glucose levels can impair your coping ability.

You can help yourself and your senior family member avoid a potential afternoon meltdown by eating a healthy snack together. Ideally, aim to eat something every three hours to maintain your blood sugar levels. You might find your ability to cope with the stress of caregiving improves considerably.

Tip Four: Go Ahead—Punch a Pillow

Sometimes, physically ventilating your rage can be very therapeutic. If you’re “having a moment,” feel free to excuse yourself and go scream into a pillow. Or punch the pillow, if it makes you feel better.

As a longer-term strategy, consider increasing the amount of exercise you get. Physical activity is a well-known mood booster, so any time you can get some exercise it should help reduce your overall stress level-and possibly your anger, too.

Tip Five: Take Time Off

Easier said than done, right?

Remember: you can’t draw from an empty well. Often, impatience and anger stem from exhaustion. Caregiving can sap your strength mentally, and it can have negative effects on your physical health if it disrupts your sleep or eating habits.

If you cannot tap other family members to take over the caregiving duties for a day or more, consider hiring a professional caregiver . For a small fee, you can recoup some peace of mind, regain your perspective and fill up your well of patience. Taking time away from caregiving benefits both you and your senior loved one.

Lastly, don’t feel guilty if you experience anger, impatience, disgust or any of the other “negative” emotions during your caregiving journey. Sometimes, just acknowledging these feelings can dissipate them. Enlist a trusted confidante who is willing to hear your frustration and anger without judging you or trying to fix the problem. You might find this strategy alone allows you to cope much better with the unpleasant emotions that can accompany caregiving.

Beyond anger, you probably deal with a wide variety of emotions, including fear and grief. Get tips for managing the emotional fallout of caregiving.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. August 6, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Posted by Paulapp

    Yes, you can hire someone from a local agency, but more often than not, someone shows up far different from the" touchy feely " commercials you see on TV. I stopped counting the number of caregivers I hired from several different agencies who were unacceptable. And most agencies charge $20.00/hr., less than half of that paid to the sitter. Sure it's unfair, but it's also a poor business practice which may attract a potentially undesirable employee who will give your agency a bad name. I finally found a friend of a friend who is working out well (& I pay her well). So by all means, try to find relief, & take care of yourself as much as possible.

    Reply

  2. February 22, 2016 at 3:14 pm | Posted by Brainiac

    My 88 year old mother and I were caring for my Dad for a number of years.We hired home care for help but when he began waking mother 6 times a nights, and falling out of bed, and him becoming belligerent, we realized we needed more help. Mom was losing weight and getting sick, I was totally stressed out. After looking at many assisted living places, we decided on Oakmont Sterling in Macomb Co.,Michigani. The care there was fabulous. We went from overwhelmed and angry to being able to spend our last four months with Dad, talking, laughing, remembering. We realized it took 2 staffers, 2 cooks, room cleaners, a nurse, a visiting doctor, and an entertainment pro to do the work Mom and I were trying to do all by ourselves. Note: if your person is a Veteran there is a program called Aid and Attendance that can help with expenses,- lots of paperwork but worth it.

    Reply

  3. February 14, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Posted by douglas lobo

    My brotherinlaw gave me this article.My wife is going through alzh eairly stages of dementia but will not admit it,refuses to see a doctor.She has eliminated one bank account and blames my son for the theft.I have found hundreds of dollars hidden closet,slipper etc.The bank will not help saying it is her account.The doctor nothing I can do she will not see me.Early this morning she exploded which is becoming more often.I should have called the police so they could make a report etc.I could then have told the doctor and may be he would belive me.My son who is 47 lives with us and is taking the blunt of this.Please advise me what I should do.Thanks Douglas.I am presently talking of 8,000 $ unaccounted for.

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    • February 28, 2016 at 7:39 pm | Posted by mallen211

      So sorry you have to go through this. So difficult. Maybe I can help with the banking part. They are correct you can do nothing about it if she us on the account with you. You can however fill out your joint account (without her) and open accounts in your name only. She will jot be able (by law ) to have access to your accounts. I hope this helps.

      Reply

  4. February 11, 2016 at 8:25 pm | Posted by Judy

    When my Dad was sick with Alzheimers, my stepmother kept him home as long as she could manage alone. When he became violent, and also started wandering, she placed him in a local nursing home with locked ward. Hearing those words was hard "locked ward" but his safety was her paramount thought. I thank her now for insuring my Dad had the care he needed when she could no longer provide for him.

    Reply

  5. February 11, 2016 at 7:19 pm | Posted by Nadine

    Thank you for this article. I wish others involved with the senior could read this as well to be less judgmental to the caregiver. I think it is one of the hardest tests for maintaining composure and compassion. It is challenging to manage one's own stress and emotions in the face of volatility from an elder.

    Reply

  6. February 11, 2016 at 4:04 pm | Posted by Dolores

    This article was especially for me.....the exhaustion of caring for my husband in his middle, longgggg stage of dementia. I was a very patient person until now. I cry a lot when by 3 pm he gets very verbally Ornery as he gets totally unreasonable instead of giving in and resting, Such as after I have taken him to HIS relative wake and funeral, etc. I know there is apathy..I've read it all, but when we are also tired we react, being humans. When I see the ads for Namenda XR with the wife being so loving and Caressing her husband...that's NOT reality..it irks me no end.

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  7. February 11, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Posted by Bobbie Sena

    Oh, how I dread being someone who needs a "caregiver". I pray that never never happens to me!I am 82. I am very mentally and physically strong. I had precious friends who had children helping them who resented the " burden" Then they put my friends in assisted living where semiretarded people tried to care for them. I hope God will preserve me so I never have to suffer the humiliation and frustration my friends did. It is amazing how, when vision and hearing begin to fail. ignorant people assume dementia has begun.

    Reply

  8. February 11, 2016 at 3:54 pm | Posted by Andie

    My mom had moderate dementia and then broke her hip when one of the 8 hr shift people left her alone in her bedroom to turn her bed down. Although at times it was difficult for me to redirect her, I am very thankful I spent 5 years (3 staying every weekend) with her. We both learned so much about each other. Time well spent and time I could not otherwise get back. Hospice agency dr ordered was horrible. The RN complained every time she was called out and was overheard by caregivers and neighbors that she shouldnt be coming out everyday (agency said to call anytime she got aggressive). stating that Makes me feel sad for those parents whose kids want someone else to deal with them. My mom would have been 90 next week and I would give almost anything for her to be here to celebrate!!

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  9. February 11, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Posted by Jackie Willis

    My Mom has Alzheimer's and she is 82. Most of all of her female relatives life's long lives ( some with Alzheimer's) . There are days when I am changing her and I keep thinking Will I have 10 more years of this to look forward to?. I am very blessed to have support from a very helpful and caring husband. Another thing I have in my corner is wonderful hospice group. Since we have been with Heart to Heart the social worker gives me ideas to help me get through the day. If anyone has access to respite care take full advantage of it

    Reply

  10. February 11, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Posted by Terri

    I live with and care for my mother, who has dementia and is 77 years old. My father passed away almost 5 years ago and then suddenly, my younger (only sibling) sister passed away 2 weeks later. I have been dealing with anger for a long time as she was the one who was going to move in and take care of mom. I never "wanted" to take care of her, but now I "have" to because there is no one else. I love my mother dearly, I just don't like being denied choices. This was a great article and I learned quite a bit. Thanks!

    Reply

  11. February 11, 2016 at 11:12 am | Posted by RDEE

    Yelling in a dryer full of clothes is good too. No one can hear you scream. Punching pillows is nice, but that gets old. If someone can give you a little break, a brisk walk around the block does wonders. Once I was so frustrated with Graminator that I began to count to ten. She joined in, all chirpy and happy. That helped difuse my frustration as I was laughing so hard, I forgot I was even upset.

    Reply

    • February 12, 2016 at 1:50 am | Posted by CAdams

      Thank you RDEE! Your advice struck me as not only helpful, but I found myself laughing so hard about your "Graminator" story. You seem to have found ways to rise above the stress and have retained a sense of humor about your circumstances. Thank you for that little lift I needed today in just knowing that I'm not alone out here. There are people that understand the frustrations of caregivers.

      Reply

    • February 12, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Posted by Vivienne

      I love your humor. That's the way I have to treat it as well. My husband now frequently calls me a b*tch for making him take care of himself and do his therapies. Now I go along with it (most of the time) and tell him I'm the toughest b*tch around so he better suck it up, buttercup. That usually brings a laugh. Hmmm...the dryer. I'll have to consider that! :)

      Reply

    • February 14, 2016 at 11:01 pm | Posted by Judi

      You are doing an amzing job! Thank you for sharing your story and God Bless you and your family.

      Reply

  12. February 11, 2016 at 11:08 am | Posted by Benna

    Very good ideas. The worst time of day is in the evening and the suggestion of eating an early supper might help.

    Reply

  13. February 11, 2016 at 10:42 am | Posted by Lanie

    My aging parent is 93 and last year was the beginning of one of my worst and most challenging. She suffered a TIA (Mini stroke)...today she's ok - but I am not. After being her caregiver for over 10 years - I was not aware of the toll it has taken on me - I realized I was angry - very angry - because I never wanted to be her caregiver, especially being the second YOUNGEST out of 5, whom all live in California. I had been holding on to disappointment, resentment, etc., for so long - I forgot all about taking care of myself. Today, I am still her caregiver, living with her, with the exception of one sister, who will come by once or twice a week to help out, IF I am not home....I guess I'm still disappointed and I pray for strength everyday to change, accept this situation for what it is and to take better care of myself. It's very hard - I now I have a medical situation I am facing because of stress - so now I am trying to distress and regroup...I want to continue to be here for my Mom - and on the other hand I want to give up - but inside I know that would not be the right thing to do.

    Reply

    • February 11, 2016 at 11:29 am | Posted by Kaye

      I am in my 60's, mom is in her 80's. I am taking her to daycare during day and I am working. I have taken care of her now for over a year. She has Alzheimer, and I am completely exhausted and not sure how much longer I can go on. At first I felt guilty because I am thinking of putting my mom in a nursing home but no longer. The confrontations are killing me. My doctor told me that I am not young, I still have a little life left and she may live 10 years, and I might not make it for 2. This disease is a killer for everyone concerned. There is a time for a life, and to take care of yourself. I no longer feel guilty, and am ready for a life and to even go to church once in a while without a hassle on why she does not need a sitter and I can leave her alone. It takes her several days to get over having a sitter so I can leave the house. Thanks

      Reply

    • February 11, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Posted by blair

      I can strongly relate to your situation. I've been caring for my now 88 year old dad for 5 years who has severe dementia, severe arthritis in most joints, heart conditions and other medical issues. I've recently had a medical issue of my own come up and I'm the only family member in our city. My sister who lives in a city 3 hours away often asks if there's anything she can do to help but it's one of those left handed invitations that don't really mean anything. She wouldn't be able to do what needs to be done around here anyways without constant direction from me. She goes to California for 6 months every winter, as well. I've felt like giving up many times but somehow I always come through and then feel guilty about wanting to give up. Don't give up it will only eat you up more!!! I've recently found that there is much more I could be doing to look after myself and I've started exercising again, playing guitar again, doing crossword puzzles again and these things help somewhat. This is extremely tough work we do. Looking after an aging parent with dementia and other issues may very well be the most difficult person there is to provide care for? Get some support from friends just to talk. If your world has shrunk so much that friends are a luxury you don't have anymore try finding one person you can talk to. JUst one. That's how I started to get back some support I lost from others. Hang in there and DONT GIVE UP!! If you can't find anyone you have a friend right here!

      Reply

    • February 11, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Posted by Andie

      Don't give up. Regrets are difficult to shake off. I had no siblings to help but realized the countless blessings given to me as i cared for her. Lengthy shopping trips to Macys and LL Bean, Kings in the Corners (solitaire game), Bingo at the senior center, tea parties and many trips to various local restaurants!

      Reply

    • February 12, 2016 at 2:05 am | Posted by cindy

      thank u! i can't tell u how identically i feel except I'm not actually sure that me giving up isn't the answer, I'm fighting pretty hard to not follow through on any urges to end all my tragic ailing, not just the overwhelming stress from caring for my dad, but so so so much more, it just won't stop! it has been a plural number of years now that my life just wants to b horrid to me n there's seriously only so long someone can survive while being forced n held under water, sooner or later....... gonna drown! I'm struggling beyond belief to breath under this ocean of suffocation but I'm afraid that the prolonged period of time already spent submerged may triumph in the end n succeed in drowning me! i didn't wanna go into too much, i just happened to read ur words n had to say thank u!

      Reply

    • February 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Posted by Vivienne

      Lanie, I feel your pain. I am caregiver for my husband (50yo), carrying a FT career with two young(ish) children. I was considering divorcing my husband until he had a # of strokes. He sides with his mother on all matters and she for some reason doesn't trust me (has screamed it to my face in front of children even). Yes, I feel your anger, frustration, challenges and then guilt. I do know that I am providing or coordinating the best care possible for him and his success is my utmost goal now. I have returned to taking the reins of my own life and of my kids. We are getting more active (physically and mentally), active in church and enjoying some leisure time together. We invite and encourage him to attend. Sometimes he and sometimes he doesn't. Any more I am fine with that. I know he is technically another child in the family and although I try not to be demeaning, I do treat him like another child. Its a tough road and the days aren't easy. But I have found taking care of myself and the kids has made a huge difference. And overall prayer and meditation has become my core. Prayers to you as well.

      Reply

    • February 14, 2016 at 1:33 am | Posted by sondraO

      Ten years is too long. It's time to find other arrangements. You don't say anything about a family of your own so maybe you don't have one. But ten years is enough of your life to give to your mother. Find a nursing home for her. The others will squak. If they do tell them they can do it for a while. You only have one life. You have given ten years of yours to your mom. Find an alternative way to care for mom,

      Reply

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