Alzheimer's blog

Anger: A normal emotion for Alzheimer's caregivers

By Angela Lunde August 23, 2011

Doug and so many of you wrote about the perplexing nature of acceptance.  Many of you agreed that accepting your situation as it is offers up room for ease and coping, but nevertheless isn't easy.

As Doug wrote, "accepting is not a onetime is a work in progress". And Joy wrote, "Sometimes we just get tired out and have to holler." How true those statements are!

Acceptance isn't the same as liking it, and acceptance doesn't mean we aren't allowed to get angry. You, as caregivers, have every right to feel all of your emotions and to let them out. You're entitled to bad days — no judgment or apology necessary.

Although Joy recognizes her anger, not all caregivers can see it in themselves. Often you may not be in tune with your emotions because you're immersed in someone else's needs and consumed with the tasks at hand.  Yet you live in extraordinary circumstances and have understandable reasons to be angry.

You take on difficult and unpleasant tasks and often feel unappreciated. You have little time for yourself and less time for friends and personal relationships. In addition, you often set unrealistic expectations for yourself and often believe it's a sign of weakness to ask for help, or believe that no one can do the job quite like you can.

It's common to feel anger toward the one you're caring for.  Sometimes, the anger may be a symptom of the fear most caregivers experience when faced with such an ambiguous loss. Undoubtedly, caregivers are at risk for feeling angry. However, feeling angry isn't the real problem. As caregivers you're entitled to (and should) feel anger if that's what you feel. The problem comes with not knowing what to do or how to relieve the anger.

An excellent booklet titled "Pressure Points — Alzheimer's and Anger", from the Duke Family Support Program at Duke University Medical Center, states that anger is a normal and expectable emotion. The booklet offers ways of responding that support the caregivers' well-being and that of the person they're caring for.

I'm going to highlight some of the ways to manage anger in my next blog. But for now, I want to leave you with an excerpt from the booklet and ask that you offer some thoughts on your own anger triggers (or pressure points) and what, if any, helpful ways you respond when you get angry.

"Anger is an emotional response to a grievance, real or imaginary, in the past, present or future. The pain of anger is very real. If we don't know how to relieve it the right way, we will react to it in ways that make things worse instead of better."

— Mitchell Messer as cited in the booklet "Pressure Points — Alzheimer's and Anger"

Aug. 23, 2011