Relieving the Stress of Caregiving

  • Imagine if your aging father, the one who considered you his little princess when you were growing up, suddenly swore at you. Called you an obscene name. Hit you. Many of you don’t have to imagine this at all, because you’re already been there.

    Imagine if your aging mother, the person who was always there for your needs, suddenly starts accusing you of stealing her money. Or seducing your father. Or trying to kill her with her pills.

    Imagine the unimaginable. Then you can begin to understand what the caregiver of an elder with severe dementia must live with.

    When dementia strikes, whether it is Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia from a stroke, or other forms, it is devastating for the caregiver. Certainly, it’s not a joy ride for the person who suffers from dementia. They become frustrated, which only fuels their anger. My uncle suffered from aphasia (the inability to speak the word your brain is thinking) after a series of strokes. It was heartbreaking to watch this once exceptionally literate man struggle to tell me he needed his razor fixed, all the while calling his razor his “magazines.” He was furious. I felt sick.
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    During the interviews I did for “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” people talked of their horror stories. Karen, who was caring for childless Aunt Florencie, tells of her pain.

    “It really became clear, however, how bad she was getting when we took her along, in the motor home, to the lake. It was sensory overload. She started hallucinating again – she became a raving maniac. She was paranoid. She was angry. She’d point her finger at us and say, “Don’t you think you’re fooling me!”

    There is no logic. How do you deal? Support groups help, if you can get to one. I highly recommend the idea of sharing your stories with other caregivers – those who understand. Also, learn all you can about the practical aspects of coping with a dementia stricken elder.

    The Stanford Report from September 2003 reports that skill-building programs given by dementia groups help alleviate caregiver stress. Many studies have shown that caregiving is associated with mental anguish and poor physical health, with a greater amount of stress being associated with caring for dementia patients. Support groups also help. Just talking to someone who understands the stress of caregiving is a huge relief. I had several subjects, after being interviewed for “Minding Our Elders” breathe a huge sigh of relief and say, “That was therapeutic!” They knew I understood. They got it out. They no longer felt so isolated.

    Caregivers are notoriously short of time, so, while support groups are often recommended, some even have trouble keeping members. It’s not for lack of need, but for lack of time to attend. That’s where on-line chats and stories told by other caregivers can help. That’s where message boards and information sites like OurAlzheimers are priceless.

    Anytime we are freed from that loneliness – anytime we feel a kindred spirit knows and cares – our stress levels will lower. We are, after all, social creatures. Sharing the burden, even if the burden can’t be lifted, goes a long way. Check the message board often. E-mail me at carol@mindingourelders.com, or others on this site. Reach out and bond with other caregivers. It could save your life.
Published On: July 03, 2006