Why’s Dad acting like this?

I’ve spoken to quite a few caregivers of loved ones suffering from dementia and there’s one common complaint for many of them.  Anger.  Not that the caregiver is angry, per se, but their loved one has sudden and uncontrollable episodes of anger.  These are often out of character for the loved one, or more extreme than normal.

It is painful to be on the receiving end of these outburst, to have cruel words hurled at your head by someone you love.  You, as the caregiver, may feel like they don’t appreciate what you do for them.  You may wonder if it is worthwhile to continue, that maybe your love and care isn’t enough.

Believe me in this, your love and care IS enough.  You are their rock!  You help them navigate a world that has become foreign and terrifying.

Think back to the last time you felt out of control.  That time where you felt like you couldn’t get a handle on anything and everyone was pulling the rug out from underneath your feet.  When you felt you had absolutely no control over the direction your life was headed at that moment.

How did you react to that scary, roiling mass of nerves in your stomach moment?  For many of us our first reaction would to be lash out with anger.  No one likes to feel out of control.  No one likes to feel that knot in your throat from flailing helplessly in the darkness.

This is part of what a dementia patient feels 24/7/365.

They don’t always understand what’s going around them, but often a part of their mind says they should understand.  They’re confused, frustrated.

At the same time, these diseases that cause dementia erode away the “social filter” that we’re taught as children.  So they lash out.  Unfortunately, you happen to wind up in the line of fire.

It’s hard, but the best thing to do is to remind yourself that your loved one doesn’t really mean all the awful things they’re saying.  They’re scared and they may not know how to communicate it.

My mantra is always: “IT’S THE DISEASE TALKING”.

The best thing you can do for your loved one when these outbursts happen is to do one, some or all of the following:

  • Eliminate external stimuli
  • turn off or down TV or radio,
  • if in a room with many people – take them to another room or ask the others to step out
  • as long as they’re not in a position of harming themselves or others, give them some space
  • give them a small snack and some water
  • distract with some pictures or albums from their younger lives
  • play some favorite music at a low volume (just enough to be audible, but not overwhelm)
  • ask them to tell you about a specific happy memory

Remember, in all the chaos, you are their foundation.  You are the one person they can rely upon, even if they can’t remember your name.  You ultimately make them feel safe and secure.  They will trust you to do what’s best.hand to hold


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