Learning How to Love—Again

Caregiving is no easy task, whether the care recipient is a child, a spouse or an aging parent. Caring for a loved one with dementia can be one of the most challenging tasks a person may face. As our loved ones undergo changes in their cognitive and physical wellbeing, they may experience changes in personality and behave in ways that are different from whom they once were.

To illustrate these changes, picture a beautiful flower with dozens of petals. Each of those petals represents an area of life that an individual holds dear: family, friends, health, independence, finances, careers, cognitive functioning, memory, etc. Now, imagine the petals dying and falling to the ground, with no hope of them returning next spring. The flower that was once beautiful and bursting with color has become bland and bare.

Similarly, a loved one with dementia may turn into someone that you no longer recognize or understand. Maybe your husband – who was once the life of the party – has become completely withdrawn. Perhaps your mom – who has always been loving and docile –suddenly has become physically violent towards you. Maybe your sibling screams and cries in public for seemingly no reason, ruining family outings.

These behaviors are difficult for anyone to handle. Often times feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, guilt, hopelessness, frustration or anxiety set in, resulting in a strained relationship between the caregiver and the care recipient. What can you do?

  1. Re-learn how to love. Train yourself to focus on those quirky moments throughout the day that put a smile on your face. Learn to love those spontaneous moments of accidental humor and allow yourself to laugh! Make an effort to make new, positive memories each day, of your loved one.
  2. Reinvent your reality. Understanding the disease process may be the key to experiencing less stress. I encourage caregivers to remember that, “It’s not the person. It’s the disease.” The more we learn about how dementia affects the brain, the more understanding we become of our loved one’s current state. We have the ability to change our reality to fit their reality; they don’t.
  3. Don’t take things personally. If your loved one becomes physically violent towards you, it may not mean that they are trying to hurt you. It may just be a means of communication. If they become withdrawn from you, it may not mean that they don’t love you anymore. They may no longer be capable of participating in conversations the way they once did. Understand that your loved one is fighting an ongoing battle. Try to stay in the present moment.

Every caregiving situation comes with its own unique set of challenges. Finding ways to prevent stress build up and being aware of the resources available to you are vital to lowering your risk of caregiver burnout. For more information, contact CICOA’s Caregiver Options Counselors at 317-803-6002 or 317-803-6140, or by email at caregivers@cicoa.org.

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