Frustration is a normal and valid emotional response to many of the difficulties of being a caregiver. While some irritation may be part of everyday life as a caregiver, feeling extreme frustration can have serious consequences for you or the person you care for. Frustration and stress may negatively impact your physical health or cause you to be physically or verbally aggressive towards your loved one. If your caregiving situation is causing you extreme frustration or anger, you may want to explore some new techniques for coping.
When you are frustrated, it is important to distinguish between what is and what is not within your power to change. Frustration often arises out of trying to change an uncontrollable circumstance. As a caregiver of someone with dementia, you face many uncontrollable situations. Normal daily activities—dressing, bathing and eating—may become sources of deep frustration for you. Behaviors often associated with dementia, like wandering or asking questions repeatedly, can be frustrating for caregivers but are uncontrollable behaviors for people with dementia.
Unfortunately, you cannot simply change the behavior of a person suffering from dementia. When dealing with an uncontrollable circumstance, you do control one thing: how you respond to that circumstance.
(Caregiver burns dinner.) "I can't do anything right!"
I'm not perfect, but nobody is perfect. Sometimes I make mistakes, and sometimes I do things well.
(Caregiver has coffee with a friend and spouse has accident at home.) "I'm selfish and rotten! If I had been home, he wouldn't have fallen."
I'm not selfish or rotten. I do a lot to take care of my husband, but I need to take care of myself as well. He might have fallen even if I had been home.
(Brother does not show up to take your Dad to the doctor.) "I knew I couldn't trust him. I should just do it myself next time."
Jumping to conclusions; should statements
I don't know why he didn't come, but I need his help, so we'll have to find ways for him to share the burden of Dad's care.
Good communication can reduce frustration by allowing you to express yourself while helping others to understand your limits and needs. Assertive communication is different from passive or aggressive communication. When you communicate passively, you may be keeping your own needs and desires inside to avoid conflict with others. While this may seem easier on the surface, the long-term result may be that others feel they can push you around to get their way.
When you communicate aggressively, you may be forcing your needs and desires onto others. While this allows you to express your feelings, aggressive communication generally makes others more defensive and less cooperative.
When you communicate assertively, you express your own needs and desires while respecting the needs and desires of others. Assertive communication allows both parties to engage in a dignified discussion about the issue at hand.
Keys to assertive communication are:
- Respectingyour own feelings, needs and desires.
- Standing upfor your feelings without shaming, degrading or humiliating the other person.
- Using "I"statements rather than "you" statements. For example, say, "I need a break" or "I would like to talk to you and work this out" instead of "You are irresponsible" or "You never help out!"
- Avoiding "should" statements. For example, say, "It's important to me that promises be kept," instead of "You should keep your promise."
The Critical Step: Asking for Help
You cannot take on all the responsibilities of caregiving by yourself. It is essential that you ask for and accept help. Discuss your needs with family members and friends who might be willing to share caregiving responsibilities. People will not realize you need help if you do not explain your situation and ask for assistance. Remember, you have the right to ask for help and express your needs.
When to say "Yes"
Don't be afraid to say "Yes" if someone offers to help. Say "Yes" at the moment a person offers to help rather than saying "maybe" and waiting until you are in a fix. Have a list handy of errands or tasks you need help with. Keep in mind that people feel useful and gratified when they are able to help others.
When to say "No"
Often, caregivers are pulled in multiple directions. In addition to the demands of caregiving, you may feel compelled to meet the demands of your immediate and extended family, your friends and your employer. Learn how to say "No" to the demands of others when you are overwhelmed or need a break. It is your right to say "No" to extra demands on your time without feeling guilty.
Learning Effective Communication Techniques for Dementia Caregiving
Many families find it frustrating to communicate with a loved one who has dementia. The person with dementia may repeat questions over and over or mistake you for someone else. It is important to remember that the person with dementia cannot control behavior caused by their disease. They do not need to be corrected or grounded in "reality." You can distract them or just agree with them as a way to reduce your frustration.
It can be helpful, however, to learn more about dementia and effective communication techniques which will ease your frustration. For example, use simple, direct statements, and place yourself close when speaking to a person with a cognitive disorder. Try not to argue about unimportant things such as what the date is. Allow extra time to accomplish tasks such as dressing. Remember, people with dementia often react more to our feelings than our words. Finding ways to be calm can help you to gain cooperation. See FCA's Fact Sheet: Behavior Management Strategies (Dementia) for more helpful strategies.
Self-Care to Prevent Frustration
Caregiving can be tiring and stressful. When you're caring for others, it's easy to forget to care for yourself. While it may be difficult to find time to focus on yourself and your needs, it is very important that you do so to prevent frustration and burnout. FCA's Fact Sheet:Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Caregivers offers additional information.
Here are three steps to taking better care of YOU:
Make Time for Yourself
You may feel guilty about needing or wanting time out for rest, socialization and fun. However, everyone deserves regular and ongoing breaks from work, including caregivers. "Respite" providers can give you the opportunity to take the breaks you need. Respite breaks may be provided by in-home help, adult day care, "friendly visitor" programs, friends and neighbors, or other means. The important point is to allow yourself to take a break from caregiving. See "Resources" at the end of this fact sheet for organizations that might help you give yourself time off from caregiving.
Take Care of Yourself
Although caregiving may make it difficult to find time for yourself, it is important to eat well, exercise, get a good night's sleep and attend to your own medical needs.
When you do not take care of yourself, you are prone to increased anxiety, depression, frustration and physical distress that will make it more difficult to continue providing care.
Seek Outside Support
Sharing your feelings with a counselor, pastor, a support group, or with another caregiver in a similar situation can be a great way to release stress and get helpful advice. You may want to contact the organizations under "Resources" at the end of this Fact Sheet or look in the community services section at the front of the Yellow Pages, under "Counseling" or "Senior Services" to find services to help you get some caregiver support. The FCA Fact Sheet on Community Care Options also offers information.
Burns, David D., M.D., (1980, 1999). Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Revised and Updated Edition, Avon Books, New York, NY.
Gallagher-Thompson, D., Rose, J., Florsheim, M., Gantz, F., Jacome, P., Del Maestro, S., Peters, L., Arguello, D., Johnson, C., Moorehead, R.S., Polich, T.M., Chesney, M., Thompson, L.W., (1992). Controlling Your Frustration: A Class for Caregivers. Palo Alto, CA: Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Parrish, Monique, L.C.S.W., Dr. PH., (2000). "Stress: What is it? What can be done about it?" Stress Reduction Instruction Manual, written for John Muir Mount Diablo Medical Center, Concord, CA.
Prepared by Family Caregiver Alliance. Funded by the California Department of Mental Health. ©2003 Family Caregiver Alliance. All rights reserved.
Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research and advocacy.
Through its National Center on Caregiving, FCA offers information on current social, public policy and caregiving issues and provides assistance in the development of public and private programs for caregivers.
This article was created by Family Caregiver Alliance. Reprinted with permission. To learn more about Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), go to www.caregiver.org