Anger Management As a Loved One Declines
Caring for a loved one with dementia can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of anger and bitterness. In this blog post, we explore the challenges of being a caregiver for someone with dementia and offer tips for managing and coping with these emotions.
By Judy Morton
Why Does Caregiver Anger Occur?
Anger management is a topic I thought I would share with you today.
Visiting my in-laws this evening, I’m noticing that FIL’s dementia is on another downward spiral. He has become extremely passive for the most part. Just sitting in his recliner, speaking very little, and mostly getting his facts wrong. But remembering the “pick your battles” rule. Don’t try to correct him on anything that’s not life-threatening. It’s not really worth arguing about.
It may be time to start him on some new medication, because he’s trying to start wandering again. At 4:00 AM, MIL (Mother In Law) was awakened by FIL walking through her side of their two-room suite, headed for the door into the hall. She asked where he was going, and he told her he “had to get to a dentist appointment.” She got him to go back to bed, but I think I’ll be making a call to his PCP on Monday to see what they suggest. The last thing MIL needs is to have to chase him down the hall to get him back to their rooms.
As she was telling me about this episode, MIL commented that FIL “doesn’t know his head from his butt, especially this last week!” Aside from the general tackiness of the comment, I was struck by the total lack of sympathy in her voice and manner.
I’ve noticed before that she is very impatient with him,. And the more the dementia progresses, the more impatient she gets.
Not exactly the best attitude to have around someone … anyone – with dementia or other mental disabilities. But tonight, she really came across as bitter. And I realized that she actually IS bitter – and bitterly angry – about the dementia.
This has to be hell for her. She had a hard life growing up. Her father was killed in an accident when she was only 6 weeks old. And of course, growing up during the Great Depression was difficult for everyone.
Her home life was not ideal. Grandma had to take whatever jobs she could… usually as a practical nurse and midwife – to try to earn a living for herself and her three daughters. This meant that not only was MIL deprived of a father… her mother was gone for many long hours, days and even weeks during her adolescence.
MIL married young. To a man who promised that if she would help him get through college on the GI Bill… he would support her for the rest of her life. And he did. He worked hard, saved as much as he possibly could, and gave her a good, comfortable life. They had a nice house, a nice family, stability and security – everything she lacked growing up. And FIL was thrifty enough to set aside plenty of money for their retirement and old age, too. (We have many worries, but affording good care for them is not one of them.)
FIL was a very strong-minded man. He mulled over options very carefully, made his mind up what he/they should do, and set about doing it. He has taken care of her for all the 68 years of their married life – until now.
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Now, he cannot make decisions. He cannot understand different options. He gets confused if you give him choices. He cannot really carry on a decent conversation or exchange opinions. He lives in a mostly silent little bubble. Except for when something gets stuck in his mind and he starts obsessing over whatever it is. The Alzheimer’s disease is robbing him of these abilities, among others – and she is angry about it.
Not just upset, mournful, or sad. Angry. Bitterly so.
She’s angry that she has to do all their decision-making.
That she has so much more responsibility resting on her shoulders now. She’s angry that she has to keep an eye on him… that he cannot make rational conversation, that he now depends on her for so much. She’s angry that she’s the last one left in her family… that her daughter lives across the country, and that she’s outlived the one good friend she ever had.
She’s angry that so much of their lives is now under the control of not just her son … but the daughter-in-law whom she thought was a silly bimbo without an ounce of sense when they married.
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(Although she now tells everyone what a jewel and treasure I am, and that she doesn’t know what she’d do without me…. Of course, she does still have to point out that I was very silly when I was 18. If I’m not in a good mood at the moment, my response is that yeah, I was, because I married into her family.)
MIL thought that she and FIL would grow old together. Which they have – and that he would take care of her for the rest of her life – which, to give him credit, he tries to do.
But she never dreamed that he would develop Alzheimer’s. That dementia would rob him of his mind and mental strength.
Now, she lies awake at night, praying that she will predecease him, because she doesn’t want to watch his decline. And she’s angry that she’s still alive, still seeing the decline, still having to cope with it all.
It makes us very sad to see this, but knowing that you cannot change a situation is half the battle of coping with it. And there is not a thing we can do to change this one. So we will cope. We’ll cope with FIL’s mental decline, and with MIL’s anger. We’ll cope with their medical issues, the careful management of their finances. We’ll cope with whatever comes our way, because that’s all we can do. Because we have already learned the hard way, over and over, that you are always stronger than you think you are.