Minimizing Caregiver Stress: Tips for Coping with Frustration and Anger

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
An adult daughter walking arm and arm with her mother outdoors.

Learn some helpful tips for coping with frustration and anger that often accompany Alzheimer’s disease caregiving.

Maggie’s mother moved in with her and her husband a few years after she was widowed. Maggie was the only daughter of her mother’s three children and both she and her husband were very willing to have her mother live with them. Maggie had a fulltime job, but on most days she could work from home.  Her husband was self-employed. Her mother was a little forgetful, but when she first moved in with them, she could be home alone. If Maggie needed to be away for the day, her husband or a nearby family member could look in on her.

A few years later, after her mother’s Alzheimer’s was diagnosed and more advanced, Maggie acknowledged she just did not have much patience for being her caregiver. She admitted to yelling at her mother, as she was increasingly frustrated and irritated by needing to provide constant reminders and answer her mother’s repeated questions. She reported her husband was far more patient with her mother than she, and for that she was grateful, but she also felt guilty that she did not have the patience her mother needed.

Blindsided

Maggie felt blindsided by both her mother’s behavior and by her response to it. She had not foreseen how her mother’s behavior would change over time.  She became overwhelmed by the everyday situations with her mother, and admitted to handling them poorly.  She wondered how people do it over the long term.

Despite Maggie’s good intentions, her stress, frustration and anger in response to her mother’s behavior had become a problem too big to ignore. She needed to make some changes—in the environment, in her communication, and in her understanding, to help her respond appropriately to her mother’s needs.  There were other alternatives to resolving this problem, but Maggie was committed to caring for her mother in their home, at least for the immediate time.  So she went about learning and incorporating some of the following principles into their daily life. Lets take a look at them.

Supportive Environments—A Good Place to Start

Creating a supportive environment for your loved one will help both of you. Implement the steps from the list below and you will create a more Alzheimer’s friendly environment and less stress for all. 

  • Modify the environment as needed for safety, such as adding grab bars and tub chairs, and devices to assure they cannot exit from the home.
  • De-clutter the living space to remove dangerous objects, minimize distractions and avoid over-stimulation.
  • Build in daily exercise, such as walks and gardening.
  • Establish routine and predictable activities.
  • Match your loved one’s interests with their capabilities. Manage your expectations of your loved one. Give them time to complete tasks.

About Distractions

Too much “stuff” can derail the best of intentions for a caregiver and someone with Alzheimer’s.  As an example, the task of everyday grooming is often difficult as Alzheimer’s progresses. But by de-cluttering the bathroom so that only the items needed are visible, you have de-cluttered the environment, simplified the task of grooming, and averted a case of becoming overwhelmed. The same is true for dressing. Only put out those pieces of clothing needed. This helps simplify the task, and the care recipient avoids getting distracted and overwhelmed.

Communicating with Your Loved One—A Critical Skill

Good relationships require good communication, and a caregiving relationship with a person with Alzheimer’s is no different. The “how to” of Alzheimer’s communication includes specific principles:

Simplify Communication

  • Use one or two step simple verbal commands
  • Speak slowly
  • Use short, simple statements
  • Limit choices to one or two
  • Use cueing (verbal, visual, or tactile) as needed to clarify directions

Examples of Verbal, Visual and Tactile (Touch) Cueing

  • Verbal: when you keep getting a question about what day or time it is, respond with “check the calendar,” or “check the clock.”
  • Visual: provide visual prompts, such as a short to-do list (2-3 items max) on the refrigerator or on the bathroom mirror.
  • Tactile or Touch: when not moving along or taking direction that requires movement in some direction, touching or leading by the hand or arm will help move them in the desired direction.

How Did Maggie Do?

Very motivated, Maggie learned these new skills and incorporated the changes into their daily life. With time and practice, and home modifications, she could see how much it changed their home life. Her mother was calmer. She was calmer. Certainly there were moments of frustration, but Maggie’s better understanding and skills helped keep her yelling in check.

Eventually, when her mother’s physical needs increased and were too much for Maggie and her husband, they found a memory care facility for her mother. Of course, they made sure the staff had good communication skills.

About the author

Kathleen Allen_2

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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