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5 Tips to Cope with Caregiver Anger

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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.

Last revised: February 4, 2016

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. October 19, 2019 at 11:16 am | Posted by Carol

    It's so nice to come here and find that my feelings are normal. Only those if us who are doing this knows what it's like.

    Reply

  2. September 28, 2019 at 4:27 pm | Posted by Christine

    My husband suffered a traumatic brain injury and bad back injury in a fall nearly 12 years ago. He has been disabled ever since. In that time we have had a lot of ups and downs, but in the past six months or so, almost all downs. His pain makes him very difficult and demanding, and he snaps at me constantly but seems unaware of how nasty he is to me.Lately he gets headaches that don't respond to meds, and it's almost every day. Today we had planned a simple day trip to a mall with breakfast out. Well, it rained and the store he wanted to go to was closed, so he got upset and, predictably, developed a headache. When this happens, he will not talk to me, will respond in monosyllables if I ask him anything, and generally just becomes a black cloud. When we got home he slept on the couch, so I went out and did some grocery shopping.But I was just incredibly frustrated and angry, more so than the day called for but it's cumulative. I was just unaccountably furious at yet another day ruined. And I said an awful thing to him, that I "feel like I am living in a nursing home." (And I often do, to be honest, with everything in our lives revolving around his health issues.) Well, that did it. Sadly, our 40th wedding anniversary is next week. He canceled our plans (one night at a local hotel, boarding for our dog) and said that he is done with me. He even messaged one of our friends and told him this. I just don't know how to deal with him and his anger and bitterness anymore. I love him but increasingly I don't even recognize him. I am at the end of my rope. I retired three years ago and that should have brought joy but it's made things worse because we are together so much. Life just feels so bleak and hopeless.

    Reply

    • October 5, 2019 at 6:36 pm | Posted by SusanA

      Your story is so close to mine. My husband has had an inoperable non cancerous brain tumor for eight years that causes him constant head pain. Since it is noncancerous, that means it can go on indefinitely. As he has become less and less active, many other physical problems such as severe arthritis, vertigo, delusions and dementia. His daily activity consists of sitting in a chair and walking back and forth to the kitchen on occasion. I retired five years ago, and my life has shrunk considerably. He wants me, and only me, just to sit with him all day, and then complains if I read or get on the computer. I have stopped planning or asking him to go anywhere with me, because just taking a drive brings on one complaint after another: car is uncomfortable, traffic is bad, road are bad, neighborhood has built up, I don't drive well, etc., etc. I would much rather do something with my friends than go anywhere with him. It is not like taking care of a stranger; we have been married for 38 years, and with all the things he forgets, he still remembers which buttons to put. If I lose my temper, and I do often, or insist on going out without him, the "black cloud" appears, and then I blame myself. Everything, even the atmosphere depends on me, me, me. I am so embarrassed when people tell me I am a saint for putting up with this, when I resent all that I have to do for him, and have had to do for so long, and do not like the person I have become.

      Reply

  3. September 23, 2019 at 8:53 pm | Posted by Chris Swenarchuk

    I have had severe head injuries and am dealing with residual effects nearly 4 years later. I cannot cook or eat properly due to an altered taste and smell. I have central nervous sensitization so cannot go to grocery stores or any publicplaces with people, smells, lights and noise. My husband who is 84 went through a kidney transplant in 2014 which made him diabetic, 2 back surgeries, three eye surgeries 2 hear surgeries and recently had a stroke. He is very restricted as to what he can do so now I have to do everything from driving to shopping, supervising meds and finances and taking car of the dog. He won’t accept help nor consider assisted living. I am totally burned out and easily get angry with him when he keeps saying he wants to drive or have alcohol. All our friend dropped us and family are all working and/or families. I am almost ready to check out. I won’t but I can’t stand this much longer.

    Reply

  4. July 14, 2019 at 7:11 pm | Posted by JMP

    My mil has been living w/ us for 3 yrs. it started abt a yr ago, she started having hallucinations, bad dreams ect. No one is helping me take care of her. I am positive she has Dementia. The family does nothing for her. I tell them she needs to have an MRI or CT Scan. They all deny anything is wrong especially when her medical tests are normal. That is Medical testing. What abt Mental testing? They deny it. What is there to feel bad abt? It isn’t embarrassing. Legally they are doing everything correctly. When it comes to Moral Law, Law of Conduct, Law of Ethics, they are wrong. Do these people have any compassion, sensitivity ect for the elder person or the family member who they put in complete charge and never help out. Could a person feel this way with no bad feeling in their heart. This is called Negligence. Also, they are just as guilty as the person they are accusing. Hypocrite. They better study the laws of Morality. The 10 Commandments are part of them. Who teaches them are our religious leaders.

    Reply

    • July 17, 2019 at 7:48 am | Posted by C Mowat

      You have a hard job. Go to her GP and ask for memory test, explain the hallucinations. These are very,very common in Lewy Body dementia, which my husband has. I wish you well. CM

      Reply

  5. June 28, 2019 at 12:38 pm | Posted by Caretoomuch

    Caretaking doesn’t end when a parent is in a nursing home. My mother lived with us for a year but frequent pneumonia and other severe health problems forced us to place her in a nursing home. For three years her mind was fairly solid but she was still unhappy. Now she is recovering from another bout of pneumonia and COPD and is in and out of depression and possibly dementia. She is scared and confused. I love her very much. I live a half hour away but work full time and have guilt 24/7. It is a “better” nursing home but the food is bad, the activities aren’t enough for some of the more “with-it” patients. I do get some help with visitations but I am the daughter and the one she calls.My husband also shares caretaking at home for his mother with his sister and this takes him away four to five nights of the week after working a full day. There are reasons why they can’t place her in a home and the frustration level and disruptive life is, at times, unbearable. They are on year six of this. We have a great relationship and have tried to make the best of our free time but the exhaustion takes away from our fun times and we often find ourselves discussing them even when away. I fear this will continue for a long time.

    Reply

  6. February 11, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Posted by Momof4

    I have finally admitted to myself that I am dealing with caregiver burnout along with the the anger and depression that often accompanies this. My mom is in stage 6 of dementia, my father has severe Parkinson's and is also getting dementia. I have 4 small children, work full time, and my sister has made it clear that she will not help at all. My parents are in a group home and getting great care, but I still have to take care of finances and coordinate some of their medical care. Honestly, it's the mental load that has me the most stressed. My dad is so angry at me...and yells..sends mean text messages frequently. A couple of weeks ago I was waiting for my husband to get out of surgery..and my dad decided that it was a great time to yell at me for not coming to see him right that minute. I just don't think I can do it anymore...I have no money or time to go to counseling. I know it sounds awful...but I really wish he would just pass away in his sleep

    Reply

    • March 15, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Posted by S Taylor

      I am so sorry to read of your total frustration. When people say 'hang in there' , its SO much more easier said than done. My husband retired a couple years ago, and I am watching him slowly kill himself bc he doesnt address his diabetes or renal condition. Meantime, I have to work also. I have nagged, begged, pleaded with him to please participate in his own wellness. Nope. He sits on the sofa, eats and sleeps. I ask about his glucose , serve healthy meals, and he snaps at me. Oh Thanks. Then he landed in a hospital and nursing home for severe conditions. He is now home. Complains he cannot walk, bc he does not want to. He has depended on every one else to solve his issues. He has always been lazy and unmotivated, btw. (Not just my rant , his own children have told me that for years.) So you are not alone in expressing the thought of wishing he would pass in his sleep. Its terrible to feel this way. In my case, there is nothing I can do further. In your case, bc of your Dad's anger issues, which are being directed at you, its hard to let this all roll off your back. But please remember, you are doing all you can, and please, do not feel guilty.

      Reply

      • July 28, 2019 at 11:04 am | Posted by Geneva

        I feel like I am living the same life. My husband has degenerative disc disease, sleep apnea,diabetes, depression and high blood pressure. His chronic pain makes him miserable. He doesn’t take care of himself so his diabetes is crazy. He consumes sugar in mass quantities then wonders why he feels bad. We are only in our early 50’s. I feel like he is turning into my father. I am so tired of his anger, the disapproving looks and his resentment that my health is still good. All day is a roller coaster. I get his grief then in the evening I get hugs and heartfelt thanks. I just want a week of ‘good’ days..... I doubt I’d even recognize them if It happened. I feel for the people on this chain. I can’t tell you how much it reduced my stress knowing my feelings are normal and I am not some evil person.

        Reply

    • May 1, 2019 at 10:42 pm | Posted by Caroline

      I hope you have found a way to cope with all that you are going through. I am just about 18 months into the dementia journey with my husband and it is compounded by ongoing cancer issues and treatments and other medical issues. Because of his health he is unable to do much and I am the caregiver as well as having to take care of all our ranch needs and chores. Tonight I blew up after spending the last few weeks driving everyday 100 miles round trip to doctors and also dealing with a death in my family whose funeral I could not attend because I did not have someone to come in to care for him. And to make matters worse he would not be amenable to it anyway. It was over something so simple. I felt like hell afterward . He was a good man before all this and he deserves to be treated with dignity. But I too have felt like it would be better if he would just give up . I know he is never going to get better but he does not. I have prayed for strength , patience and compassion and 8 out of 10 days I am good ! But sometimes things just pile up and you realize that your life has changed forever and you see no end in sight. It is those times that I am resentful and know that it is killing me slowly with all the stress and anger and resentment! And there are no support groups within an easy distance . I have a relative that has been very supportive but unless you live with this 24/7 no one can understand.

      Reply

    • June 9, 2019 at 2:27 pm | Posted by Jenn

      Please know you aren’t alone! Your caretaking community empathizes and is listening! I teach full and part-time and am my mom’s caretaker. I am so upset apologizing for HER behavior to others. If I take a day or two to focus on me or my jobs, I’m the worst daughter in the world. The berating comments and the constant ‘trying to please’ has sent my life into a tailspin. Don’t blame yourself for the angry thoughts- you are an imperfect human in a tough spot. Xx

      Reply

      • August 27, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Posted by Pat

        You have an unimaginably hard situation. Though it doesn’t feel like it, you CAN continue. Remember it is not your dad speaking, it is his illness speaking. Remember each act of caring you have done for them recently and hug yourself for the compassion you have shown. I wish you strength and a sense of your own goodness.

        Reply

      • August 27, 2019 at 12:11 pm | Posted by Pat

        I am so very sorry that you have to endure berating comments. Remember, you DO NOT DESERVE THEM and YOU DESERVE THE OPPOSITE. I hope that just knowing one other caregiver (husband in stage 6 ahlzeimers) sympathizes and is sending you warmest possible encouragement, will sustain you for a few days. My deepest empathy and respect, Pat

        Reply

  7. February 6, 2019 at 3:32 pm | Posted by D Monroe

    Out of the 8 children in my parent's blended marriage, no one was willing to help care for Mom and Dad when they started falling and taking the wrong pills, getting in hospital, etc. Even though I lived the furthest away (3,000 miles), I left my home and children and grandchildren of my own and came here to care for them. I thought we could all live fine in a larger home, which we purchased together. Now it is 2 months later and I have found that they are calling all the shots. The house has to be the way they want it even tho we're splitting the payments and expenses. Every decision is treated as theirs alone. If I think differently they just ignore me. I am doing all the cooking cleaning shopping, medications, trips to doc etc. I feel like a maid or servant and I've been getting frequently angry. My husband has many medical problems of his own yet he had to stay behind since over a month ago to finish wrapping up our business back home and won't be here for another few weeks. I don't know how I'm going to cope and I find I'm crying in my room a lot. At least in reading this I know I'm not alone. I will try these suggestions. Thank you.

    Reply

    • March 15, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Posted by S Taylor

      Have you consulted an attorney? And no, you are not alone. My heart aches for you.

      Reply

    • September 12, 2019 at 11:38 pm | Posted by Gail

      Why are they calling all the shots if you helped buy the house and you are the one doing all the helping? No, no, no. You need to speak up and tell them what you are sacrificing for them and you need their cooperation. If they are not willing, then leave and go back to your husband and family. Sometimes we are put in very difficult situations and have to make painful choices to save our own mental and physical health.

      Reply

  8. February 1, 2019 at 11:30 am | Posted by Ursula

    As a professional caretaker who then was pulled into the role of a family caretaker, I think that the later is much more difficult. I see the situation, I know the needs including my own and then I can't convince my loved one that I also need support. We would need to hire someone as there is not immediate family close by and our few friends have their own health or other issues. Any good suggestions how to make your partner agree that additional help is needed for the sake of both of us? I can feel how I become more more resentful of the situation.

    Reply

  9. January 16, 2019 at 9:01 pm | Posted by Elia Garcia

    Thank you for letting us know this is very important information For all of us.

    Reply

  10. January 16, 2019 at 6:46 pm | Posted by Candy

    Thank you, just thank you. This does help.

    Reply

  11. December 27, 2018 at 4:44 am | Posted by Marvette

    Wow this so amazing, I am the wife and sometimes and when I call my daughter to vent my frustration she answer the phone yes mama what's wrong, and that make me feel that I only call heright when something is wrong with her dad. It's just the opposite of your situation. So I don't caLloyd aso mUchave as I would like to

    Reply

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