“I was angry when they told me my husband had the disease. I was angry when it progressed and I realized what we both lost. I was surprised that months after he died, I felt angry at him for dying. How do you handle that? ” A Durham Caregiver
Anger is a powerful emotion. It has the potential for destruction, upheaval, and can create continuing conflict. Harnessed, it can be constructive, bringing welcome changes in caregiving situations which are difficult, painful, and sometimes counterproductive for everyone involved. Anger may be the most fascinating of the emotions. Its power can be frightening or, in the words of Achilles in Homer’s epic poem, the Illiad, the taste of anger can be “sweeter than dripping streams of honey.” Whatever its form, it is a legitimate emotion. How we respond is the test of its usefulness.
For the caregiver, anger is a signal for action. Action may begin with the simple recognition of anger, an examination of its causes, and devising healthy ways to respond. There are numerous risk factors for anger when caring for someone with dementia: Too many competing responsibilities; too little help; difficult, unpleasant caregiving tasks, feelings of fear or frustration. We can’t change some situations. We can choose our response. It’s a powerful strategy embodied in the New England adage, “You cannot control the wind but you can adjust your sails.” Adjusting your sails includes the following options:
• Resolve to control what upsets you or to put it more informally, don’t sweat the small stuff. A caregiver writes, “I had to figure out a way to slow down my personal speed. I tell my mind to slow down and I try to take a break before the next self-appointed job.”
• Hone your caregiving skills. Find acceptable shortcuts to make the job easier. It is the process, not the product that counts! Lisa Gwyther writes, “… regardless of the specific task, families have an easier time when they employ effective caregiving skills.”
• Forgive yourself when things go wrong. Almost every caregiver creates unrealistic and often impossible expectations; no one is innately an expert all the time.
• Choose your battles. You can’t be all things to everybody in your life. According to Harriet Learner in The Dance Of Anger, we often find caregivers, especially women, feel it is their job “to please, protect, and placate the world.” Narrow your priorities!
• You can say no. You can say it loudly, you can say it gently, you can say it kindly, but when it’s warranted, say it definitely. And often, caregivers as a rule don’t say no nearly enough. Saying no is not just uttering the word `no,’ it is also deciding that you don’t have to be perfect or superwoman, and that you can set your own standards of what is good or good enough for now.
• Take care of your health. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Exercise. A healthy body more easily withstands the stress and fatigue that often lead to anger.
• Find and use whatever works for you. Music, meditation, yoga, gardening, keeping a journal, or participating in a support group, are all legitimate ways to manage anger.
• The old encouragement for unrestrained venting may be actually harmful. Sweet revenge may not be so sweet and is often the less useful approach.
• Seek counseling if you need help in managing your anger. Increasingly, there are anger clinics and persons who specialize in helping individuals manage anger. A friend, clergy, social worker, or nurse may be available to you.
Finally, consider the person with Alzheimer’s disease whose behavior and needs are often central to caregiver anger. Confusion, hallucinations, fatigue, disruption of sleep, physical discomfort caused by pain, illness, even constipation may precipitate challenging behaviors in the person with dementia. Addressing these needs, symptoms, and behaviors in the individual affects not only his well being but your emotions as well. Both the caregiver and the person cared for fare better when anger is viewed as understandable and leads to a constructive response. (From “The Caregiver, “Duke Support Program)
Alzheimer’s Arkansas Programs and Services
201 Markham Center Drive
Little Rock, AR 72205
Phone: 501-224-0021 or 800-689-6090