Mar 13, 2016

How to Reduce Caregiver Stress

Alzheimer's Reading Room

When my mother, Dotty, would say something mean, nonsensical or just downright crazy to me it would immediately bring up emotions like anger. I think many of you know what it feels like when a person living with dementia is mean to you for a reason that is difficult or impossible to understand.

Even under the best of circumstances Alzheimer's caregiving is stressful.

Memory Test

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

One of the biggest problems that caregivers face is developing techniques to deal with and reduce stress.

To handle and reduce stress I developed a technique where I labeled my feelings and then started to diffuse the stress associated with the feelings by taking a series of deep breaths.

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If you learn how to do this you will find that it is an effective method of immediately lowering your stress level; and, you will learn to identify what emotion you are feeling at the time.

Identifying what you are feeling and dealing with those feelings head on allows you to take control of situations over time and most importantly change.

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In other words, change the dynamic and then start avoiding situations that lead to only one thing -- an increase in your level of stress.

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Failure to identify what you are feeling, dealing with those emotions, and changing the dynamic will only lead to greater heartache and eventually -- regret. You will regret how you are acting, behaving and communicating. This leads to blame. You will blame yourself for what you did, or are doing.

You will regret that you continued to engage in behaviors like arguing with a person who is deeply forgetful over and over, and then finally coming to the realization that engaging in behaviors like this are counterproductive and only lead to more and more stress.

You can develop a cumulative stress that feels overwhelming.

When my mother, Dotty, would say something mean, nonsensical or just downright crazy to me it would immediately bring up emotions like anger. I think many of you know what it feels like when a deeply forgetful person is mean to you for a reason that is difficult or impossible to understand.

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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. I'm not alone when it comes to the challenge of learning how to deal effectively with a person who is deeply forgetful.

One of the first conclusions I came to was that I was going to need to figure out how to calm myself down quickly, how to reduce the stress that came with these negative episodes, and how to center myself quickly so I could move on during the day without being "bent out of shape" all day.

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When these constant episodes of "craziness" would occur the same thing would happen every time. I would end up with a pain in my stomach and a range of feelings that included a sense of hopelessness.

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I knew I had to learn a way to deal effectively with this new, unfamiliar, communication from my mother.

Over time, 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. Harnessing up and dealing with these feelings allowed me to move on and to deal with the current situation without making it worse.

Once I had my mother settled down, I would go into a separate room and let my feeling(s) come to the surface.

I would first label and identify what I was feeling. Next I would allow myself to feel the feeling, more or less allow them to wash over me.

Finally I would dismiss those feeling by taking a serious of long deep breaths. I would take a deep breath in, and then release the air out of my body very slowing. After several of these deep breaths and releases I would feel the stress coming out of my neck and body.

Essentially, I was centering myself, labeling my feelings and then, taking a "few deep breaths".

Before I knew it, I was able to use this technique to blow away all the bad feelings and find myself relieved.

I also learned to take a few deep breaths once the negative 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.

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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 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.

Over time something really miraculous happened, my mother stopped saying mean things to me, she stopped engaging in behaviors that seemed so malevolent at the time.

I guess you could say I learned how to blow the negative feelings right out the door.

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I took care of my mom from November 17, 2003 until she went to Heaven on May 25, 2012. 3,112 days. I am an Alzheimer's caregiver; and, I know how you feel.

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