Q: My husband has dementia and his behaviors have been really frustrating me lately. Do you have any suggestions on how I can be more patient with him?
A: Caring for a loved one with dementia will almost always bring up frustrations and test our patience. It is incredibly difficult when we see our loved one changing, and the relationship we had before is not the same.
There are many reasons your frustrations may be greater right now. It may be your husband’s behaviors are changing and getting more difficult. Perhaps it is that you are not understanding what he needs. Or it may just be that the stressors of daily life during a pandemic are getting to you, and so your normal level of calm is being disrupted. All these reasons are normal and understandable.
There are some suggestions that may help you handle these behaviors with more ease. One thing that often helps is to learn about dementia. Understanding the changes that happen in the brain can help us see the behaviors through the lens of the disease. When we picture the brain changing it helps us to realize that we cannot expect that person to respond to us in the way they used to.
A key is to never argue with someone who has dementia. The person with dementia may not be in the same reality as you and arguing will serve no purpose. Instead agree or distract them and redirect the conversation to something pleasant. If necessary, leave the room to avoid confrontations.
Think about having a goal of reducing stress and increasing joy in both you and your husband’s lives. Let this goal be your guide to how to you handle situations.
Often, a person with dementia does not have the ability to express or even understand their own frustrations. Keep in mind they are losing some of their old abilities and often respond based on their own fears. We cannot always expect them to tell us in words how they feel, but usually we can sense from their behaviors if they are having a hard time. There is a saying “the person with dementia is not giving you a hard time, the person with dementia is having a hard time.”
Consider using short sentences and simple instructions. Find activities to keep your husband engaged and busy. You may need to adapt the activities he used to enjoy to make them more manageable now. If you are both having a difficult day, try sitting together and listening to music that brings back good memories or looking through old photo albums and reminiscing together.
Caring for a loved one is a very rewarding journey, but can also bring difficulties and sometimes sadness. There are many resources that can help you with education and support. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour help line available at 800-272-3900. You can use their website to look up local caregiver support groups at alz.org. Senior Concerns also provides care consultations and support services for family caregiver in East Ventura County. You can reach them at 805-497-0189.
Take some time for yourself and reach out for support. Getting a short break is sometimes all we need to reset and to be able to renew our day with more patience. Practice deep breathing, listening to music, taking short walks or any relaxation technique that works for you. Taking of yourself as the caregiver is an important part of your role to ensure that you can continue in supporting your loved one.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at email@example.com.