Caring For Someone With Dementia: Coping With Guilt
Caring - in any capacity - can really take its toll on your emotions, and It goes without saying that when it comes to caring for someone with dementia, coping with those emotions can be even more challenging.
One of the most common (and completely normal!) emotions to feel is guilt. Guilt that you’re not doing a good enough job of caring for your loved one. Guilt that you’re not accepting the help that’s been offered. Guilt that you sometimes feel overwhelmed, frustrated...angry even..
If you are caring for someone who is living with dementia, it’s important that you recognise any feelings of guilt you may have so that you can find ways to work through those emotions. Hiding your feelings will make things ten times worse for everyone!
Our article takes a look at some of the most common sources of guilt in carers for dementia patients, and suggests some measures for managing these feelings.
‘I’m Not Good At This’
It’s perfectly normal to feel that other people might be coping with the role of carer better than you are. Often, if you speak to other carers or read about their experiences, it can seem that everyone is coping a lot better than you. What’s their secret?
The truth is, there isn’t one. There’s no such thing as being a ‘perfect carer’, so don’t be too hard on yourself! Other carers will, like you, have days where they cope well, and days where it all seems too overwhelming.
If you are caring for a loved one who has dementia, be realistic about what you can achieve. It might be a case of having to accept more help; or ask for it - let your family and friends know that you’re struggling and give them the opportunity to help you out.
‘I Didn’t Know They Had Dementia!’
Sometimes, feelings of guilt come from the memory of how you treated a person before they were diagnosed with dementia. Maybe you were critical, or got irritated with them, and now that you know why their behaviour was so frustrating you feel terrible!
Again, don’t be too hard on yourself; we all get annoyed with people we love sometimes, and you weren’t to know that they had dementia. It can be very difficult to understand the changes that are brought about by the condition, but they can have a profound effect on someone’s behaviour and demeanour. The more you learn about the condition, the more you’ll understand it, which will help alleviate those guilty feelings.
‘I Still Get Irritated Now’
Caring for another person can be very stressful, and if you add a condition such as dementia into the mix that can increase ten fold! Maybe you’ve had angry outbursts towards your loved one and you find it hard to forgive yourself afterwards.
Feelings of frustration are normal in this situation, and it can help to learn some meditation or breathing techniques to help you cope. Another tip is to take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy; ask a relative to take over for a couple of hours, or employ some respite care, and be ‘just you’ for a while. Take a long hot bath, read a book, meet a friend for coffee...this time away will help you to feel happier and less stressed.
There could be times when it’s not possible to take a few hours for yourself, so if you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated, try to just leave the room briefly - take a few deep breaths and reset before you return.
‘I Feel Guilty For Wanting Time Away’
You shouldn’t! Everybody needs time to relax and recharge - and for carers it’s so important to spend some time away from the caring role. You’ll find that having some time away from your loved one will make you feel much more positive when you return, and therefore better able to care for them.
‘I Don’t Like Accepting Help’
Caring for someone who has dementia is exhausting, even if it’s someone you love very much. You might feel that you should be able to care for your parent/grandparent/spouse etc without any outside help - after all, you know them best and are quite capable, thank you very much!
Remember that it’s not about being capable - it’s about looking after yourself too, so that you can fulfil your role as carer to the best of your ability. Accepting and asking for help is an important step in that. If you don’t have other family members who can help, either because they live too far away or have work and childcare commitments, there are home care services you can call upon to give you that support.
Your loved one might initially be hesitant to be cared for by others, especially if they are easily confused or find it difficult to understand and adapt to any changes. But over time, the slight change will become normal and they will adjust to the new routine. It’s normal to feel guilty when you first experience that separation from the loved one you have been caring for - but your renewed energy and increased positivity are just a couple of the benefits that can be brought about by accepting some outside help.
‘My Loved One Needs Residential Care, But I Feel Too Guilty’
It’s no wonder that making the decision to move a loved one into a residential home can feel like a huge betrayal - especially if it’s a parent or grandparent who has spent their lives caring for you! You might feel like you’re letting them down...maybe you promised them that you’d always look after them and now you’re going to have to break that promise and the guilt is overwhelming.
It’s really important that you remember you are not abandoning them or your caring role - it’s simply a different way of caring for them. Sometimes round-the-clock professional care is what is best for your loved one, and that’s ok. Any promises that you may have made about always caring for them yourself were made before their condition became more severe - it’s not a case of no longer loving them or making them a priority.
In fact, some carers find that once their loved one is receiving residential care that their relationship with them improves because the time you spend together is less stressful and more special, without the constant worry about the practicalities, or the guilt that you’re not doing a good job.
It seems that guilt and caring go hand-in-hand for a lot of carers, but remember, we all have bad days, and just because the person you are caring for is someone you love it doesn’t mean you are exempt from feeling frustration or anger at times. Accepting help and support, and taking some time for yourself is key.