When Anger Gets in the Way

When Anger Gets in the Way

Editor's Note: We welcome Maris to our blogging team today.

Every minute of the day I have to remember that my loved one, for whom I am sole caregiver, doesn't process information the way she used to. Her memory is so poor that we have the same conversation every morning while I make coffee. What begins as a friendly, "Good morning, did you sleep well?" deteriorates into admonition when I get exasperated and suggest that, with her dementia, she should be living in a professional care community. She vehemently denies that she has dementia, and we take off from there. I have to take credit for escalating these arguments, because I know better and she doesn't. Still, I surely can't be the only one experiencing this. Common sense dictates that anyone caring for a husband or wife, mother or father must at times blame irritating patient behavior on character defects, an intractable personality, selfishness, or "they've always acted like this." It's irrational, and we usually deal with these feelings by reminding ourselves that it's a disease and not a character defect or otherwise, that's causing this behavior.

I have taken inventory of my own feelings and motives, reflecting on whether my anger and complicated range of emotions toward my loved one stems from resentment over having to be a caregiver. I believe that that's some of the problem. I know that because she has no one else and will never agree to enter a senior living facility or "old folks home," as she characterizes it, I am all she has, and her dependence terrifies me.

My loved one suffered her first stroke over 20 years ago, followed by several small ones before finally being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and mental illness three years ago. In most respects, she is high-functioning, and aside from her memory, casual acquaintances would be hard-pressed to know that she has a cognitive disorder. She demonstrates a terrific sense of humor and abstract thought. She loves people but has a hard time engaging in conversation, so she has become an observer.

I've learned some techniques from our encounters that will help maintain equanimity in our relationship as I muddle through the un-chartered territory of memory loss and witness her heartbreaking condition. I know that others use some of the following approaches in dealing with those with cognitive impairment, and maybe they make me feel better than they do, her:

  1. I restrain myself from finishing her sentences when she struggles for words.
  2. I let her know that I understand her point of view so as not to escalate an argument
  3. When she asks if I love her, I say "yes" and accompany it with a hug.
  4. I work at being disingenuous, without patronizing her. If she wants to drive herself somewhere, I figure out a time when we can go together in my car, instead.
  5. She is often suspicious of people's motives, so I offer her a choice of rational possibilities for their behavior.
  6. I try to encourage her whenever possible.

What techniques work for you?

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