Aug 2, 2018

How to Reduce the Stress of Alzheimer's

I came to accept Alzheimer's disease for what it is--an illness that will not go away.

"When dementia strikes the majority of us are overwhelmed by the stigma attached to Alzheimer's. Our brain tells us, there is no hope.

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I slowly learned how to take control of each situation - one at a time.

The technique -- labeling your feelings and then diffusing stress by taking a few deep breaths really helps.

Breath in your nose and out your mouth slowing. Deep breaths. You will feel the stress coming out of your neck.

Learning how to reduce stress quickly is an important, integral, part of effective Alzheimer's caregiving. Reducing stress quickly allows you to communicate more effectively with a person living with dementia.

Subscribe to the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Learning how to breath and label my feelings was useful not only in my daily caregiving effort; but also, when Dotty became very sick (I would worry she wasn't going to make it) or when she suffered memory lapses that often come with infections, especially urinary tract infections.

This is coming in handy right now but for a different purpose than described in the article below. Dotty is sick and I am stressed. The combination of diffusing the stress with deep breathing and all the support I am getting from the Collective Voice of the Alzheimer's Reading Room is really helping me get through this difficult time.

I should add, the support we received from readers of the Alzheimer's Reading Room was almost important, and so powerful I doubt I could have carried on without it.

I actually wrote the following article more than eight years ago for the benefit of the readers of the ARR. I hope you will take the time to read it and benefit.

Alzheimer's Communication, Take a Few Deep Breaths

When my mother would say something mean, nonsensical or just downright crazy it would bring up emotions like anger in me immediately. Imagine a person being very mean to you and how you might feel. Since I was raised in a feisty Italian-American family it was not unusual for my “temper” to flair.

When I moved to Delray Beach, Florida to take care of my mother one of my most difficult problems was learning how to communicate with her. If you are caring for a person suffering from Alzheimer's or dementia you know how difficult this can be.

When my mother would say something mean, nonsensical or just downright crazy it would bring up emotions like anger in me immediately. Imagine a person being very mean to you and how you might feel.

Since I was raised in a feisty Italian-American family it was not unusual for my "temper" to flair. If I reacted the way I had in the past my mother would either get "meaner", or she would go into her room and stay there for hours on end often refusing to speak. I would end up with a pain in my stomach and a range of feelings that included a sense of hopelessness.

I realized during those first days that I needed to learn how to deal effectively with this new, unfamiliar, communication with my mother.
The first thing I decided to do was work very hard to learn a new set of skills to deal with these situations.

I learned to label (identify) and accept my initial feelings. What was I feeling: anger, frustration, confusion, sadness or a combination of all of these feelings? I found that by identifying my feelings I could corral and contain them. Then, I could deal with my mother and the situation at hand.

Once I had my mother settled, I would go into a separate room  and let my feeling come to the surface. First identify, second feel, and third dismiss these feeling as part of the sometimes craziness called Alzheimer's disease.

I knew my mother didn't mean what she was saying, and I knew from my previous 50 years with her that she would never say or do the things she was doing if she could help it.

As I was learning this new behavior, I read an article about taking a "few deep breaths". I tried it. Before I knew it, I was able to use this technique to blow away all the bad feelings and find myself relieved.

In other words, I was able to quickly reduce stress that always comes while dealing with a person living with dementia.

I also learned to take a few deep breaths once the communication episode with my mother was starting. This really helped me get in focus and reminded about what needed to be accomplished. The task at hand.

So my advice to you is to learn how to take a few deep breaths. Nice and slow, deeper and deeper breaths. It works. You might also envision yourself blowing away big dark clouds and replacing them with nice big white puffy clouds.

I learned to accept my initial reaction to these situations as part of being human. In other words, I came to understand that it was OK to have my feelings, my emotions.

I also learned that I needed to keep these feelings in check (until I could change them), and find a way to diffuse the anger within me.

I came to understand that my mother was now evidencing behavior that was a result of her own confusion  and the deterioration taking place in her brain. I came to accept the Alzheimer's disease for what it is -- a sometimes mean and sinister disease that was not going to go away.

I learned that it was not her fault.

I learned to accept, learn, and deal with each situation effectively - deal with situations one at time. I learned to  reduce stress immediately instead of allowing the cumulative build up of stress to cause conflict  between me and my mother.

You can do it too, I know you can.

I want to add something here.

As a result of developing new communication techniques, acceptance of the situation, exercise, good nutrition, and the introduction of an Alzheimer's World philosophy my mother was no longer mean or sometimes malevolent.

Related Articles in the Alzheimer's Reading Room

Communicating in Alzheimer's World

10 Things a Person Living with Dementia Would Tell You If They Could

10 Tips for Communicating with an Alzheimer's and Dementia Patients

What are the 7 Stages of Alzheimer's

Dementia Patients are People Too

How to Test Your Memory for Alzheimer's and Dementia (5 Best Tests)

Need Help? Search Our Award Winning Knowledge Base for Answers to Your Questions About Alzheimer's and Dementia

Original content Alzheimer's Reading Room