Caregiver well-being is influenced by more than just the caregiver’s health. In dementia care or in attending to anyone with a chronic illness, the caregivers well-being is also influenced by the care demands. It is important to note that the demands and burden may be self-imposed by the way the caregiver interacts with the care recipient.
One of the demands that takes a toll on family members of individuals with chronic cognitive and mental health conditions is witnessing the disappearance of the person as they knew them prior to becoming ill. Acknowledging and coming to terms in dementia care with the cognitive decline is a challenge all on its own. Author, Amy Ferris wrote an essay about her struggle with her mother’s dementia. She described dementia as a “destroyer of hope and faith and goodness”, proceeding further in relaying how the disease stripped away her beautifully groomed mother who always wore Estee Lauder perfume, replacing her with a stranger – still her mother – that was not bathing for 3 or 4 days. For those who know dementia, this may sound familiar to you.
Another behavior that is not uncommon for those with a chronic cognitive or mental health condition – taking its toll on caregivers – is verbal and physical aggression. Aggression is assessed as provoked or unprovoked. It can be challenging for those who have an argumentative nature to not provoke the person with the illness into a rage. For instance, if one has had a relationship dynamic with the cognitively impaired family member prior to the illness of constant bickering, frequent arguing may have just been natural in the relationship. This dynamic though becomes volatile when the cognitively impaired family member is losing impulse control and losing insight of memory loss. The caregiver may still expect the dynamic to be one of bickering, starting an argument that becomes explosive, exacerbated – taking a huge toll, upsetting the care recipient and chipping away at the caregiver’s resiliency and well-being. A case like this of provoked aggression is assessed as a safety risk.
If you can relate, it may not be easy to experience the loss of this relationship dynamic. But for self-care purposes and to alleviate tension, it is recommended that you work at adaping to the changes. For caregivers of family members who are changing due to cognitive disabilities, you can assist yourself by remembering the “law of interaction” - Do not argue! You, as a caregiver are using up much needed energy by fighting a battle that you will never win. Remember also, your family member is not the cause of this, it is the illness. Pay attention to your behavior and assess the interactions; assist by acknowledging, catching yourself and trying to stop the urge to engage in an argument. Rather, walk away or say something that will diffuse, divert or distract. It may be difficult in the beginning and you may need support to do it. But rewarding in the long term for strengthening your resiliency, well-being, safety and…sanity! What do you then do with the pent up energy from the frustration of not arguing? … redirect, verbally vent to a friend or counselor, go for a walk or participate in other exercise, moving to sweat it off.