Anger and Dementia: Both Sides of the Coin

Time can be the enemy

By Cindy Sproles

The clock of dementia holds a pendulum that swings both directions. Not only does the backlash affect the patient but it affects the family as well. An otherwise docile adult may become violent at the simplest change. Words become their arrows of hurt and anger burns in each one that pierces the heart.

 For families, the difficulty comes in understanding why a loved one would be so brutal especially when family members are making every effort to please the patient. The first step in grasping hold of incoming flares of anger is accepting the lash outs are not personal. It’s the disease speaking and acting, not the person we love.

 While patients may experience a vast array of behavioral changes from wandering, hallucinations, insomnia, and even aggression—their behaviors can be worsened by their environment and their own inability to deal with stress and frustration. Imagine yourself in the patient’s position, unable to articulate needs, handle normally simple tasks or even remember their next sentence.  Finding the trigger for sudden outbursts takes time but once family members hone in on the cause, they are able to take steps to avoid or alleviate “hot” spots.

Though family members cannot always control their loved one they can, many times, control the situation and environment that trigger outbursts. By locating the agitations or points of disorientation in their loved one, family members can help manage a comforting and caring place for their parent. Lessening loud noises, dim lighting and even certain  television programs, family members can ease some of the outside environmental triggers and reduce sudden stresses.

Remaining claim as a family member or caregiver is important. This is where the pendulum swings in the other direction. Not only do patients experience anger but family members or extended caregivers suffer this same frustration.  Continued repetitive questions from patients, frustration in trying to understand a need or repeated scares from wandering parents raise the stress levels to a new high for family members.

According to medical professionals and in-home caregiver companies, families, on average, have one adult child who maintains the bulk of parental care. The burden, even when done with great love, is taxing. Family caregivers normally have their own personal family to care for as well and by adding the additional weight of parental care, it isn’t long before anger and resentment rises.

So, how do families manage this dilemma? First and foremost, they remind themselves daily, this is a disease not a personal attack. Lash outs are not a sign parents do not love or care for their families. Secondly, provide a weekly break for the family caregiver away from the patient. Everyone needs time to rest and the job of caregiver is a demanding job.  Hire professional caregivers to assist in the care of your loved one. Companies such as Comfort Keepers can provide that needed respite for family caregivers.

Communication is imperative—continued dialogue with siblings, physicians and therapists helps manage the onset of anger.

As the holidays approach, remember the mixed emotions that trail in the wake. The holidays, though overall a joyful time, also drudge up past losses of spouses or children as well the hustle of shopping, change and unexpected visitors. Prepare your loved one, maintain as normal an environment as possible and remember, roll with the flow.

The disease takes its toll. Cling to the joyful memories of parents when care was easy and take time away from the situation to let emotions ease.

Anger is part of the disease but dealing with it in an effective and loving way is possible. Seek further information on anger and dementia for both parents and families from the Alzheimer’s Association at http://www.alzfdn.org .

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