Visiting family members who need care for dementia and other serious illnesses is important. It is also often fraught with emotion. At times these emotions may seem out of place, but they aren’t. They’re real and need to be coped with for the sake of your own health.
Guilt: Sometimes it can be laid on really thick. Our elder isn’t thrilled at being where she is. She doesn’t understand why she is where she is. She’s not the only person in her unit who feels that way; I can tell from those visiting other patients.
Even without the constant comments aimed to cause extreme emotions, we bring our own to the table. “Did I do the right thing?” “Is this in her best interests?” and so forth are common thoughts.
Depression: Seeing someone who was, basically, on top of the world sitting in a memory care unit isn’t easy. It’s not a catastrophic death such as from a stroke or heart attack. It’s the slow melting away of memories. Something as simple as the last time we were there is forgotten in the two or so days since the last visit.
Fear: That could be me. In fact, unless I do have a catastrophic death it probably will be me. That’s scary. Being robbed of my mind, having to be tended by strangers in a strange place, having all of the things that have happened to our elder happen to me is very frightening.
Anxiety: My biggest anxiety is what is she going to do next. I’ve said it before…dementia doesn’t mean stupid. When she wants her way she will work at it until she can get it, even if it isn’t in her best interest. While we don’t have the day to day worries of when she lived at home, she can still get into quite a bit of mischief…and has.
Coping: Thankfully, we don’t have to just sit back and let these emotions eat us up. Doing nothing could do just that. Here are some coping mechanisms I’ve learned and use.
Meditation: There are many passages in the Bible as well as in poetry books that can work for this. Find something that soothes you when you read it, and then explore it more deeply. If a pastoral setting is what soothes you, imagine yourself in it. Feel the grass, smell the flowers, watch as the breeze gently swings the tree branches and hear the sound of water running in a brook nearby. Take your time and let your memories of these feelings ease your mind.
Herbal Tea: I’ve found that Celestial Seasoning’s Sleepy Time works very well for me. There are a few mild stimulants in it to offset the chamomile. You may not have the same reaction. There are many who actually are made sleepy by it. Any tea mixture with chamomile, jasmine, lavender and/or passionflower is likely to be useful. As mentioned, they could all also put you to sleep.
Getting Help: We can’t always cope on our own. That’s a natural reaction and not one to be shoved under the carpet in embarrassment. If the other coping skills don’t help, talk to your doctor. Counseling and/or medications may be needed. Getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
The bottom line is this: don’t feel surprised if negative emotions arise. They are genuine, valid and need to be handled. Don’t be surprised if reactions other than those I’ve already mentioned are felt. Anger is a reaction I’ve seen. Find the coping mechanism that helps you best. Your relative needs you and making yourself ill isn’t good for anyone.