June sat at the kitchen table, fuming. “How dare they,” she thought. “How dare they carry on as if there’s no problem. Don’t they understand what’s happening to me? How can they be so mean!”
Then she stood up and faced her sister, Elaine. Her anger was too great to be controlled. And, so in front of everyone–her husband, her sister-in-law and her daughter–she pointed her finger at Elaine and in her low, cryptic voice, said:
“How could you! Stop talking. You don’t know! Why are you so mean!”
The spiteful words halted the conversation at the table immediately, her sister-in-law ending a story in mid-sentence. June’s daughter and sister-in-law shrank into their chairs, hoping to magically disappear. The finger remained pointed at Elaine.
Elaine look dumb-founded at her sister, whose words had forced tears to her eyes. She was too upset, and too humiliated, to say out loud what she was thinking. “But, I’m not doing anything,” Elaine thought. “I take care of you. Is this what Alzheimer’s does to you?”
When we care for persons with a chronic illness, we learn how to help with personal care: toileting, dressing bathing. But, the true caregiving challenge sometimes lies with our care recipients’ disturbing behavior that seems to come out of nowhere. How do you handle those moments that can be so embarrassing, so upsetting and so discomforting? An expected angry outburst at the dinner table. An inappropriate comment to a stranger. Horrifying behavior during a family get-together.
It happens to all family caregivers: the blush flush because of an embarrassing situation with a care recipient. Here are some tips to keep you from turning red during your next dance with distress.
1. Stay calm. Keeping your cool will keep everyone else calm, including your care recipient.
2. Temper your anger. Sometimes, we react with our temper during embarrassing or humiliating episodes. Use whatever trick works to reign in your anger: count to ten, leave the room, sing.
3. Remember the source. Although you’re tempted to believe otherwise, usually your care recipient cannot control his or her behavior. Blaming the care recipient only makes matters worse.
If you feel the care recipient’s words or actions are intentional, don’t overreact. If your care recipient realizes he or she has pushed your hot button, rest assured that button will get a great workout. Don’t let yourself be manipulated.
4. Solve the problem. Sometimes, an embarrassing situation can result from a care recipient’s environment. Take the care recipient to the bathroom, turn off the television, offer a snack or drink. Acknowledge the care recipient’s anxiety, hurt or anger. Then, remove any source that could be agitating or upsetting your care recipient. For example, ask small children to play in another room, reduce other noise, ask your husband to take the dog outside.
5. Model appropriate behavior to other family members and even strangers. Consider embarrassing episodes to be your opportunity to teach others about your care recipient’s illness or disease, whether it be Alzheimer’s, arthritis, Parkinson’s or cancer. You can also educate others about loving and respecting the elderly and disabled.
6. If appropriate, laugh or smile. For instance, if your care recipient has unusual or out-of- the-ordinary behaviors that do not hurt others, then enjoy his or her eccentricities. But if your feelings were hurt, don’t shrug off that remark or behavior with a laugh. Instead, concentrate on remaining calm and pinpointing the reason for the outburst.
7. If inappropriate remarks occur during a conversation with your friends or family members, then change the subject. Or, if you’re at home, ask everyone to move into a different room. A change of setting may distract the care recipient and put an end to the inappropriate behavior.
8. In public, ignore the stares of strangers. If you are handling a situation to the best of your ability, then disregard the pitying glances or obnoxious looks. Don’t waste your time worrying about others’ reactions. Instead, be proud of your kindness and good will.
9. Know you’re in good company. All caregivers can exchange a litany of horrors involving embarrassing situations. Write yours down–you may want to share them at your next support group meeting. You’ll feel better for sharing.
What works for you? Please share your tips and suggestions in our comment section.