Patience – The Toughest Part of Caregiving

There was crying. Yelling. Tears & anger. Hurtful words were thrown about. This is caregiving.

On the surface, this isn’t what we typically associate with caregiving. Our minds go to gentle imagery. Soft, loving, maybe melancholy. But in our roles as adult caregivers of our senior loved ones, the frustrations and resentment can overwhelm the nurturing impulses at times. This stems from the sudden reversal of roles: the person who used to change diapers and dry tears is suddenly the one in need of basic care and protection. Emotional memories are among the last to be affected by memory issues; combine that with the thinning of the emotional “filter” with these conditions, and that inversion can be terribly traumatic for the care recipient. They resent being infantilized by a person who – on some level – they still picture as a child. Feelings of resentment spawn tough words, and the person who is upending their lives to care for a loved one starts to also feel resentment and anger. This can quickly turn into a feedback loop of harmful words and personal attacks if left unchecked.

This is where the magic word – patience – comes in. It is arguably the single most important skill for a senior caregiver to possess. Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other similar conditions are not rational, you cannot logic your way around them. They are inherently emotional and irrational, and you must be prepared for that. Your loved ones will not remember to do things if you just explain it to them the perfect way. They won’t suddenly recall how to care for themselves if you show them how important it is. Memory issues and other cognitive issues are not an attack on you and your caregiving; they’re horrible disease which attacks indiscriminately. Focus on immediate caregiving and preventing further harm, and ignore all else. Detach from your ego and let the emotional outbursts wash over you, because you know that’s the disease talking, not them. Always respond with kindness and gentleness, even when you want to scream and yell.

In caregiving, patience is the highest of virtues.

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