Their memory is getting worse, the ability to effectively communicate is diminishing and now they’ve decided to accuse anyone and everyone of trying to steal their life savings; the poor mailman didn’t know what to make of it! To top it off, they believe you are the true culprit of all things bad in the world and have no problem letting you know this, usually through aggressive behavior. You knew that a dementia diagnosis would be hard but you weren’t prepared for the mean streaks or anger, right? The disease is cruel on so many levels and forces caregivers and family members to deal with an onslaught of emotions. You’re empathetic for your loved one during one moment and then annoyed by their accusations in another. One thing to remember is that some of the emotions you’re feeling are being felt by your loved one too and they just don’t have the tools to communicate it so it comes out through:
- Accusatory comments
- Inappropriate comments
- Physical abuse
None of them are acceptable ways to communicate but remember that this isn’t a mentally healthy adult, so try to look at the bigger picture – which we understand can be difficult when your father is calling you names you didn’t even know existed (remember, counting to ten really can help!). Taking time to consider the causes for this anger may allow you better deal with it.
Inability to verbalize – Think of a child who can’t speak, what do they do when they get frustrated? They kick, scream and cry. This is essentially what’s happening to your loved one. They aren’t able to communicate with you and so they take out their frustration in child-like ways.
Physical pain – Beyond suffering from dementia your loved one may also be experiencing physical pain from other ailments that you’re unaware of and that they may not be able to verbalize. They could also be dealing with pain from medications they’re taking. Either way, this pain may be resulting in negative or bad behavior because they’re unable to express themselves.
Emotional pain – An adult who has spent their whole life taking care of themselves and then has to rely on other people to feed and wash them is an emotionally charged and painful experience. They likely feel inadequate, guilty and embarrassed by their limitations. They don’t know how or can’t share these thoughts with you so it comes through in anger.
The reasons for their behaviors aren’t excuses nor will they make your interactions with them any less hurtful but they may help you put it in perspective. It’s also a good idea to have some coping mechanisms in place for those particularly difficult days. For instance, during a moment of aggression try to redirect their attention to something else, whether it’s a happy memory or a bird flying outside the window; steering them away from the current topic will help. Another option is to step away from the situation and take a breather.
Lastly, don’t forget to remind yourself that their bad behavior is not a reflection of you or how they truly feel about you. Lean on family and friends to vent your frustrations and sadness, this is the time to ask for support from others. Do your best to focus on the positive of each day and remember to laugh! =)