Communicating with someone who has dementia can be incredibly frustrating, and at times you may feel hopeless or angry with your loved one, the situation, or yourself. Reminding yourself that it is the disease, not the individual, that is causing the change in behaviour. Equally, remembering that you cannot change the situation. Do not allow yourself to feel guilt or responsibility for the frustration that you and your loved one may discover in trying to communicate.
Maintaining a positive demeanour when communicating with someone who has a cognitive impairment is essential, but sometimes you may find it hard to access the right attitude. Here are some coping strategies that you can try when you find yourself feeling frustrated, helpless, angry, losing your temper, or lashing out at your loved one. If you have some strategies that you’ve found useful in coping with your stress caring for a loved one, please comment below and let us know.
- Step back and decide if this is something you can change, or cannot change. Realising what you have control over can help you take action steps.
- Recognise the warning signs of your frustration. Controlling an outburst is easier when you know it’s coming. Your signs may be physical (constriction of throat, headache, etc) or they may be a negative thought pattern that leads you to overwhelming frustration. Know your signs, so you can stop yourself in your path.
- Relaxation techniques: Once you reach the point of frustration, you need to calm yourself down physically in order to control an outburst. Try some of these:
-Remove yourself from the frustrating situation. Leave the room even just for a moment, close your eyes, and deep breathe.
-Create a calming environment where you can go to breathe, meditate, listen to music, and return to a calmer state.
-Exercise. Physical activity is proven to minimise stress and contribute to better moods. Make time for a regular exercise routine that you enjoy.
- Reach out. Expressing yourself and your frustration is important. Talking about it openly with someone else, such as friends, support groups, or counsellors, will help you cope.
- Control your thought patterns by identifying non-helpful patterns, and replacing them with more constructive ones. This can take a lot of personal work, but will eventually become natural to you. Write down the negative thought patterns that your mind usually follows. Next to each of them, write down a more constructive thought pattern for you to follow. Keep this page with you in the beginning, as it can be hard to change your mind once it starts on its negative path.
- Master “yes” and “no”. A caregiver needs to be comfortable saying ‘yes’ when someone offers help, and also saying ‘no’ when someone asks more of you. Be realistic about how much you are handling, and be honest with others about it.
- Ask for help. This is a critical step. You may reach a point where it is simply too much, and you need help. Reach out within your circle for personal help, and explore professional options for finding help for your loved one. Utilising respite care to find personal time is essential for every caregiver. Decide early at what point you will no longer be the best primary caregiver for your loved one, and when you will seek a professional caregiver to help.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and I would strongly recommend seeking professional support when coping becomes too difficult. Having someone to talk to, and assist you in managing your emotions, will aid both you and your elderly loved one to have a better relationship as you enter the role of caregiver.