A caregiver’s role is challenging, especially if one needs to balance a job, family and housework on top of caring for his/her loved one living with dementia. Caregivers may think they can or should do everything by themselves, or may want things to be done well with very good outcomes. This is understandable, as the stakes are high in caregiving. However, it is not always possible to have things done perfectly as a caregiver, and expecting this may increase the likelihood of burnout.
Managing Negative Emotions
Even if things are going well, some caregivers may think that they are not doing enough. Feeling guilty happens when expectations are not met, and when the person who worked for certain outcomes attributes the results they find unsatisfying to themselves. They may also feel guilty about their own emotions; for example, caregivers may sometimes struggle with feelings of not wanting to be a caregiver in the first place or wanting free time for themselves.
It is always a good idea that caregivers remind themselves at least once a day about:
• How much help they are providing a person you care for
• How their intentions come from love, care, and compassion for their loved one
Doing this will not only motivate caregivers to improve their caregiving skills; but also give them a sense of fulfilment as an individual, for the present and future.
It is natural for caregivers to feel frustrated, trapped and angry at the situations they may find themselves in. However, showing these emotions to persons living with dementia or others may not be a helpful way to manage the situation.
However, it is just as unhealthy for caregivers to keep these feelings to themselves. They should not ignore these emotions, but find healthy and positive ways to let off steam. You may suggest to caregivers some of these options to let go of anger and frustration in a safe way:
1. Join a support group for caregivers. It can provide opportunities for caregivers to share their feelings openly. Group members will understand how one another feel and no one will be made to feel guilty. They may even offer practical, effective advice or solutions. Research also shows that support groups can help caregivers deal with their situations better.
2. Make an appointment with a therapist, family counsellor or spiritual advisor.
3. Keep a journal to express and write down feelings.
4. Exercise e.g. take a walk to cool down.
5. Other creative methods, such as: going to a private corner or room and take out the anger on a big pillow.
Support and understanding are essential. It may be useful to seek advice and solace from other caregivers going through the same experience.
Caregiving can be emotionally demanding and may trigger negative emotions such as the ones mentioned above. Sometimes, these negative emotions can lead to depression which will put the well-being of caregivers and their loved ones living with at risk.
It is already good in and of itself for caregivers to make time for themselves, get some respite, and talk to a professional, family, or friend to express their emotions. In light of how depression can increase the risk of developing illnesses such as heart disease and put others around one at risk, however, it is even more important that caregivers take the time to care for themselves.
If caregivers have five or more of these symptoms for more than two weeks, they may have depression. Advise and refer them to make an appointment and talk to a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist.
If caregivers are experiencing stress symptoms, here are some ways to manage them:
To avoid burnout, set aside time for themselves
Make and keep doctors’ appointments to maintain their own health
Join a caregiver support group to expand their network
Make use of respite care opportunities – caregivers must rest so that they can care for their loved one better
Talk to a professional, friend or family member about the challenges they face and explore ways to manage their stress
A caregiver may feel alone and that he/she is the only one dealing with these feelings. However, they are not alone. Every caregiver faces the following problems at some point:
As persons living with dementia become more dependent on their caregivers, the caregivers sometimes fear being isolated from the community. More than ever, respite and support are coping techniques every caregiver needs as building blocks for their emotional support network. Many caregivers may feel bad asking for help. However, caregivers who are able to develop personal and social support will more likely cope better.
“Why doesn’t anyone ask how I am doing?”
It is easy to feel invisible next to a person living with dementia. Many caregivers say that nobody asks about their situation as everyone else is focused on the person living with dementia. These feelings should not be allowed to build up, as mental health experts advise.
Support groups, religious and spiritual advisers, or mental health counsellors can always advise caregivers on the many positive ways to seek help when needed.
Also, encourage them to seek professional help immediately if they are:
• Drinking more alcohol than usual
• Using unhelpful coping methods
• Often taking prescription drugs without a doctor’s advice
• Suffering from skin rashes, back aches, colds, or a flu that does not go away
• Unable to focus or think clearly
• Feeling tired and do not want to do anything
• Feeling worthless, guilty, or sad most of the time
• Having fear and anxiety
• Having thoughts of inflicting harm on themselves or their loved ones living with dementia
• Experiencing the points above for two weeks or longer
Some Tips for Caregivers to Deal with Physical and Emotional Burdens
Live one day at a time
Make a list of important tasks and prioritise them, think of ways to make tasks easier, allow some things to be left undone
When handling a difficult task, make it easier by listening to music
Find time for regular exercise; this will help caregivers to keep fit, increase their physical stamina, and keep their feeling more energised
Focus on getting relaxing sleep instead of more sleep
Take short rests in the day to get enough sleep
Set aside time for meditation, reflection or prayer
Do deep breathing exercises and meditate to free the mind of troubles
Take care of the self-esteem; remember that everyone has skills and talents
Remember that everyone has limitations, and continually acknowledge them
Set goals; remember that one may not be able to do everything like before
Have a balanced diet
Make time for themselves
Treat themselves to a massage once in a while
Keep in contact with friends and take part in interesting activities
Let friends or family know that they welcome help; allow them to help with respite care
When visiting the doctor, caregivers can talk about their caregiving responsibilities, not just their loved ones’ symptoms
Share their concerns with a friend
Join a support group, or start one to share ideas and resources
Use respite care services in the community
Speak openly and honestly to people who should be doing more to help
Make a list of tasks and assign specific ones to people who offer to help
Know that they do not have to feel guilty about their emotions, and that simply acknowledging them is okay. It is natural and human to experience them.
Express anger and frustration by writing down the feelings
Allow themselves to cry Remind themselves that they are doing something important for the person in their care
The following resource contains bite-sized information on Managing Negative Emotions that you may download and/ or print:
Click on the image below to download in English or select another language.
- (2019, December 9). Ministry of Health. Your Guide to Understanding Dementia. Retrieved on 24 March, 2021, from https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/679/yourguidetounderstandingdementia_pdf
- (N.d.). Alzheimer’s Disease International. Dementia statistics. Retrieved 24 March, 2021, from https://www.alzint.org/about/dementia-facts-figures/dementia-statistics/