Feelings of guilt are common among dementia caregivers
You’re doing a tough job that comes with high stress and a wide range of thoughts and emotions – both positive and negative. Sometimes those negative thoughts can cause caregiver guilt.
Guilt is a complex and powerful emotion that can increase stress, drain energy, and make you feel stuck. Often, the things that make you feel guilty are misconceptions or unrealistic expectations.
To improve your health and quality of life, we explain how 5 common beliefs can cause guilt and why you shouldn’t beat yourself up for those thoughts. We also share tips for dealing with caregiver guilt.
5 misconceptions and tips for dealing with caregiver guilt
1. Other caregivers are doing a better job
You might feel guilty because you have unrealistic expectations for yourself and feel like you haven’t achieved them. When you hear from other dementia caregivers, you might think they’re actually living up to those expectations.
Based on what you see and hear about the outside of their lives, it could seem like they’re doing a better job than you are. You might think they’re better at coping with stress, hands-on care, working with family, or finding resources.
The truth is that you only know about a small part of their lives. It’s not realistic to compare what little you know about their situation against your everyday caregiving reality. Most likely, they’re struggling just as much as you are – or more.
In this situation, it’s helpful to be honest about how realistic your expectations are. Nobody can do everything by themselves and there is no such thing as being “perfect.” Set yourself up for success by setting achievable goals, getting help with caregiving, and taking time to care for yourself.
2. I treated my older adult poorly before their dementia diagnosis
Before your older adult was diagnosed with dementia, you might not have spent much time with them. Or, they may have been acting strangely and you might have reacted with irritation or criticism.
It’s always tempting to look back and say “I should have…” but nobody knows what the future holds. And you couldn’t have known that a medical condition was causing their behavior.
Without understanding dementia or knowing how to manage common symptoms, it’s natural to assume your older adult was doing fine on their own or to be annoyed or upset with unusual behavior.
3. I have negative thoughts and feelings about my older adult
Even though you care about your older adult, you sometimes might not like them. It may feel like things have changed and now you’re only caring for them out of obligation. They might disgust or embarrass you. You might want to walk out the door and never come back or even wish they were dead.
These are common thoughts and feelings among caregivers – everyone has had them at some point. Remind yourself that this is normal and you shouldn’t feel ashamed or guilty.
What helps is to not try to control or suppress these thoughts. Accept that you’re having them and remind yourself that no matter what you’re thinking, you’re still doing an amazing job caring for your older adult.
Then, start to work through these thoughts and feelings by talking with someone you trust or write about them in a private journal.
4. I get angry or irritated and sometimes lose my temper
Caring for someone with dementia can be frustrating and exhausting. At one point or another, every caregiver has lost their temper and snapped at their older adult. After you cool down, it can be hard to forgive yourself for the outburst.
Just remember that getting angry is a natural response when you’re already pushed to the limit and dementia symptoms flare up. Maybe essential tasks like eating or bathing become nearly impossible. Or maybe your older adult makes mean comments or paranoid false accusations.
Instead of beating yourself up about it, think of different strategies to reduce the chances that you’ll have an angry outburst in the future. You might work on noticing the signs that you’re about to explode so you can step away before that happens. Then when you’re away from your older adult, use other ways to let the anger out, like screaming into a pillow, counting to 127, punching some cushions, or stomping around the room as hard as you can.
You could also notice if there are situations or times of day when you’re more likely to get angry or frustrated. For these times, think of ways you could release some tension, get some time for yourself, or get some help.
For example, if you find that dinnertime is especially tough, take time beforehand to ease stress – turn on some music that puts you in a good mood (dance a little if you can!), watch a short funny YouTube video clip that makes you laugh out loud, relax with aromatherapy, or do a 2 minute meditation. During that time, keep your older adult occupied with an engaging activity or have someone help you.
5. I shouldn’t want time for myself, but I do
It might make you feel guilty that you want to get away and have time for yourself. You might think that you should limit non-caregiving activities to only the most essential things. Or you may feel that if your older adult can’t enjoy life, then you shouldn’t either.
But it’s critical to regularly recharge your batteries by getting away from caregiving and taking time for yourself. You could exercise, catch up with friends, enjoy a hobby, see a movie, or just relax and do nothing.
Taking care of yourself with regular breaks isn’t anything to feel guilty about. Making time for self-care enables you to sustain caregiving for the long run and keeps you healthy.
In fact, feeling refreshed and positive actually improves your ability to care for your older adult.
Recommended for you:
- Don’t Believe These 3 Common Myths about Caregiver Guilt
- 3 Ways to Let Go of Guilt and Get Help with Caregiving
- 3 Reasons to Stop Feeling Guilty About Putting Mom in Assisted Living
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Clarity Pointe