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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 2, 2018 at 2:01 am | Posted by Harolyn

    I was a caregiver to my husband for over 30 years. He was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease at age 37. We had a 3 year old and a 6 year old and had been married 7 years. My husband went into immediate depression and their I was beginning my caregiving journey. My husband passed away almost 2 years ago and had Parkinson’s Dementia also. Caregivers are angels that are tested every single day! It is the most difficult chore/job I have ever had. As a retired elementary teacher/ mother/ wife, and caregiver I help with my 94 year old father as he can no longer care for himself. He refuses to go to assisted living, and is not happy aging in place. We have a caregiver with him 24/7 and that has taken a toll on the family.

    Reply

  2. September 10, 2018 at 8:47 am | Posted by Louise

    I dealt with my mom's Alzheimer's over the past 10 years and the last five were extremely bad and is only getting worse. I love my mom dearly, but she's also killing me with this stress. Every single day I wish nuclear war would happen and just get it over with.

    Reply

    • October 10, 2018 at 8:27 pm | Posted by Brad

      I hear ya! One gets that way after a while, wishing the earth would just blow up and take away all the pain and stress. Caregiving is one f%#@ing tough job. Get help if possible. Find a support group. Hang in there. If no one has told you lately, I'll tell you: You are appreciated!I'm caring for my 92-year-old mom, who has dementia and visual impairment.

      Reply

  3. July 19, 2018 at 5:50 am | Posted by Bill

    My mother (72) is stage three to four of dementia, and lives with my father (74), who is her primary caregiver. We are four siblings trying to alternate our visiting them. (My two married brothers, and me live a five-hour drive from them, whereas my married sister is closer.)I’m a 35 yo, single male, and visit them every other weekend, as well as spend my 30-day annual leave with them. While I do a lot around the house, and give all the required care and affection to my mother, in particular, I sometimes "lose it" with her. For example, on Sunday, I was cleaning the entire big house. Half away through it, my mother was considerably restless, so I asked her to sit somewhere or go out for a while, till I finished. [My problem is that when I’m cleaning I can’t stand it if someone is under my feet, and I often get angry (: ]She would not listen to me - she's also somehow hard of hearing; as a result, I raised the voice a bit to her, and I gently took her by arm from the hallway out - this being a distance of about 2 meters. Even though I didn't do that forcefully, with my mother not saying anything, nor sounding/appearing displeased/angry, I could beat myself right away.Although my mother didn't say anything later, nor showed any trace of displeasure, I kept feeling guilty - I still do!The other (married) brothers are less empathetic toward our mother, and spend less physical and quality time with her, which, on the other hand, spares them these moments of "losing it" with mom. I want to be a perfect caring son for her but I can't do so every single minute :(. Why??Thanks for reading.

    Reply

    • August 6, 2018 at 11:14 am | Posted by Marnie

      I just read your post & it really helped me in dealing with my mom. You're in such an extremely situation, & sounds to me like you're doing everything right! Being with your mother more than your siblings does test you much more & makes it all the more difficult to keep your cool under trying circumstances. I lose it a lot with my mom when I spend 2-3 weeks staying with her & my dad, who is legally blind. I feel guilty all the time & struggle to answer my mom's constant repeated questions & concerns about everything. She was my rock & best friend, unlike my sister who has her own family, who sounds similar to your siblings. Maybe it's because we strive to be the perfect caregiver & feel closer to our moms that we have a harder time dealing with situations than others. I'm already planning my next stay with my parents & am thinking of doing little fun things with them versus in between the household needs. Just little things like getting an ice cream cone, playing some old music that my mom can sing along to, going to a park, even for just a few minutes & try and enjoy being with my folks versus enduring the visit. Hope you're hanging in there with your parents. Try not and feel guilty as it sounds like you're doing so much better than you think.

      Reply

  4. May 10, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Posted by Allysa

    I live with my dad while I'm his caregiver, and I also go to school. He calls me at least 100 times a day and sometimes it does get frustrating because I am studying. While I know I have agreed to a certain amount of time per week, I can't help but respond with a tone of attitude in my voice sometimes. I don't say anything outright rude, but the way I say the word, "what?" When he calls me is enough to make him over the top angry and then he starts threatening to fire me and if I don't respond to his threats (if I just stay quite), he gets even more angry and he starts saying demeaning and insulting things and screaming and creating a crazy amount of hard stress over something small. I'm a human being, I have my own stress in school ontop of taking care of my father whom I've lived with my whole life and am still dependent on, sometimes I can't help but have an annoyed tone in my voice. Me saying the word "what" wrong, makes him way too angry, there's been times where he's actually thrown things at me. It gives me stress headaches and it's slowly giving me emotional instability. He refuses to acknowledge that MAYBE he is dishing some abusive behavior because he's the disabled, and I'm the caregiver. He has no idea how hard it is to deal with it, and he's gone through 2 other caregivers that have had the exact same experience.

    Reply

  5. February 12, 2018 at 11:31 pm | Posted by Louise

    Caregiving is often a special kind a living nightmare without end dealing with end-stage Alzheimer's. Doing basic things like toileting is pure hell. For example, when you finally get them to the toilet and they won't go because they get fixated with everything else (touching everything they can get their hands on and playing with their diaper) so end up refusing to go to the toilet preferring to go in their pants as usual. Guess who has to clean it up the mess.

    Reply

  6. January 29, 2018 at 7:39 pm | Posted by Susan

    I went to my phone to look for a way to cope with my frustrations anger and exhaustion. I found the article very helpful. Just realizing I'm not the monster I thought I was and finding I'm not alone was priceless.

    Reply

  7. November 20, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Posted by Sandra

    I get so disgusted with mom when she spits out food. She takes over an hour to eat a meal, and will create a mess to clean up every time. There's food on the floor, on herself, sometimes even in her drink. I try to console myself that she's doing it to protect herself from choking--not aware that's true but it's a story I tell myself--but it still just hits me as horrible table manners and more work for me.

    Reply

  8. November 10, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Posted by Wendy

    My mother is on Hospice and wants to live at home. My father is her care giver and has Alzheimer's and struggles with his challenging behaviors. This information is somewhat helpful but then again not really. She can not leave, she is living room/bedroom bound. This is just making her more depressed. My father refuses to get tested or help for this. Its hard because one minute he says "I'm old , you forget things" and then the next minute he denies ever saying any words like that. I just dont know how to help anymore.

    Reply

  9. November 8, 2017 at 5:40 pm | Posted by Lisa

    All my mother's siblings (7) are now gone and their spouses. There is no one left to call my mom and I feel so sad for her. She is 91 1/2, and she was not the youngest. She is blind from advanced glaucoma, has had a stroke, and most recently came down with shingles. My hubby and I have been caring for her since 2009, the year her husband died. She has lived with us for almost 3 years now and we are at the end of our ropes. Our marriage is suffering, my mental and physical health is suffering and I wonder if she will outlive us. I have thrown things, hit pillows, screamed in pillows, cried to my siblings, cursed at my siblings and have prayed. Why me? Because I thought and acted with my heart and not my brain. A home would have been a better place for her but I did not have the heart to place her in one, especially since she is blind. I do look forward to not being a caregiver anymore - someday. When that day comes, I hope to remember all the good days and the love we have for each other. I plan on telling my siblings to lose my number. I don't ever want to hear from them again. Maybe in time I will be able to forgive them for not helping like they promised they would.

    Reply

    • November 20, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Posted by Sandra

      A nursing home still can be a better place for her and for you. Can you open your mind to that possibility?

      Reply

  10. November 8, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Posted by Carol Rost

    Thank you so much for these comments. My husband died on October 1st, 2017. He had Lewy Body Dementia. Seven years ago he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. His bladder was removed and was cancer free for seven years. However, following the surgery, he suffered many set backs. Infections and more surgeries. He had a urostomy and an ileostomy. Seven surgeries in all. Each one accelerated the dementia. I was pretty much housebound with him The last two years. He never got mean, but was hard to handle at times and because he wandered. One day he couldn’t wake up. I took him to the hospital. He was there for two weeks. I was told he needed 24/7 care. He didn’t have long term insurance. I found a private assisted living house. He was only there furcsix days. He passed peacefully. As bad as the journey was, reading what other people went through, helps me realize it could alway be worse. I feel bad remembering what he went through and fot the times I felt sorry for myself and responded to some situations in anger. I lost the man I fell in love with, a long time before he passed. I miss the man he was before dementia stoke him.

    Reply

  11. November 3, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Posted by Liz Wolf

    Sounds like my husband. End stage Lung cancer with brain mets. He says whatever he feels like, calls everybody lazy, curses up a storm at everybody about everything, tells me to "get over it" if I wince in pain when I lift him. Our house is at nearly 80F all the time, and I burn up, have sweat sores from constantly being so hot. I am taking care of him 24/7. Family members work long hours to help us out financially, and he forbids me to bring in a hospice volunteer to relieve me for a while. "They are volunteers because they want to come in people's homes, scope them out, and then come rob them. Once he asked for his gun when the hospice social worker was due to arrive. He looks for his wallet constantly, because he thinks I will steal his credit cards. This has been constantly getting worse since his diagnosis in Dec 2015.On days when he is lucid, it gets worse, because then he turns on the news and spews his political views (which are not exactly mine) and tells me to go live elsewhere, he won't have no hippy-commy freak living in his house. Then he asks for me to bring him a juice.So to all who talk about the "loved-ones" and soothing words and playing soft music - you all are blessed.My whole family died of cancer, and all of my relatives were gentile people til the last day. We had laughter and joy, and memories. This man's behavior makes me muster ALL my patience. He hit me once when I told him that he was out of line and he told me to pack ... it was an invitation that I was surely considering. But 42 years ago, I said "for better or worse, until the bitter end," and I meant it.P.S. He once was the love of my life and I guess I am drawing from that memory, old pictures ...

    Reply

    • June 2, 2018 at 9:30 am | Posted by Peggy Rivera

      I am so sorry for what you have had to cope with. My mother in law has dementia and she turned mean as well. We had not had a relationship for 20 years and then we made up and we were ok for a while but I still never felt the love for her. My husband brought them to our town bought a house to put them in down the street. His father developed lung cancer and died then I was her caretaker. I found a book called the 36 hour day. It was a God send. It helped me find my way around the disease. But we finally put her in a home. We go and see her every other day, then we go on about our lives. She fought and cried and screamed. But I am glad we did it because they can care for her better than me because there are more of them. I thought we wouldn't be able to afford it because it is very pricey but when we spoke with the administrator they helped us find a way that helped pay for it. I wish peace for you.

      Reply

  12. April 9, 2017 at 5:47 pm | Posted by Shelley

    Hello, I need tips for caring for my mother who swears loudly , voices insulting comments for all to hear. She fixates on things like bad tasting food, who cut my tree down, who cut my hair , not liking a caregiver . She makes racial slurs, threatens to sue people. I try to remove her from the situation... like taking her outside...a new tv program... but this doesn't always work or some times not possible. It is very embarrassing and I am in fear of losing caregivers because of her behavior. It happens at various times of day. My mother recognizes family , can still reason so telling a fib doesn't work because she will ask so many questions until my answer sounds foolish. We do try to de -escalate situations before it gets really bad but we aren't always successful. Sometimes I leave with tears in my eyes and or with frustration and anger. Any tips?

    Reply

    • April 17, 2017 at 4:59 pm | Posted by Home Instead

      You may find some helpful tips in the Dementia Support Network to help manage your mother's challenging behaviors. http://www.helpforalzheimersfamilies.com/dementia-support-network/ It sounds like you are on the right track trying to remove her from the situation or redirect her attention to something else. Make sure the caregivers you hire are trained and experienced with challenging behaviors like your mother is exhibiting. Professional care help should be a respite for you to get away from the situation for a little while.

      Reply

  13. April 6, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Posted by Shelley Hunt

    Try fifteen years and no end in sight.

    Reply

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