Give yourself a break: dementia care takes practice


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I’ve had a lot of people over the years say to me, “Wow! Dementia care? You must be really patient!” 

This is actually kind of funny to me, because one of the last ways I’d describe myself is “patient.” One of the main reasons I don’t want to work for someone else is because I can’t stand when things take a long time to accomplish. The corporate world is all about having meetings about having meetings about deciding things in a meeting. I can’t handle it.

Needless to say, I am not a patient person, albeit in ONE area of my life: dementia care. I am incredibly patient with people who have dementia. Even so, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I’ve said the wrong thing, made the wrong choice, and upset a person living with dementia here or there.

It’s going to happen: you’re going to do the wrong thing. And that’s okay.

Dementia care takes practice. I like to tell people that it’s an art form. Most of us didn’t get really good at painting, playing an instrument, performing on stage, or doing anything else just by waking up and magically being great at it. Most of us have worked years at our craft, honing it, learning, experiencing, practicing. Dementia care is the same way.

So, give yourself a break. Maybe you said the wrong thing yesterday. Maybe you yelled at your loved one with dementia this morning because he asked (again) what time it was. These things happen.

You’re doing the best that you can. And you’ll keep getting better.

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5 thoughts on “Give yourself a break: dementia care takes practice”

  1. I have all the patience in the world with mum who has advanced Alzheimer’s and ended up giving up work to care for her.
    Since then dad has also been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and his short-term memory is almost non existent now. I find I just don’t have the same amount of patience with him.
    After speaking to a therapist I think it’s because we were going to look after mum together and now I find I am caring for both of them and almost feel resentful that dad now can’t do things.
    I know he can’t help how he is but I find him so much more stressful than mum and do feel guilty about that sometimes.

    1. That makes a lot of sense, though! It’s hard, but you do need to cut yourself some slack. You’re doing what you can, and you can’t control how you feel—only how you react to it!

      1. Thanks Rachael. I’m learning to take a deep breath or walking away for a moment when I start to feel stressed. I think it’s worse at the moment as I was meant to be having my two weeks break from caring from next Friday but obviously everything is cancelled at the moment. Just have to stay positive and know I have it to look forward to once the world gets back to normal.
        Stay safe x

    2. Rosetao, I can relate to feelings of guilt as a caregiver. I think most of us caregivers feel some resentment even if most won’t admit it. I can’t imagine caring for both parents simultaneously. Wow! I know your days must be a whirlwind. I hope you have some type of in-home assistance to help and give you reprieve so you can take care of yourself. Sending hugs and prayers that you have continued strength, good health, and are able to let go the guilt because you are amazing for what you’re doing.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. After 30 years as a social worker with dementia patients, I thought I was an expert. But nothing can compare you for when it hits home. My dad had early on-set and passed away 16 years ago, I got a lot wrong and learned a lot from that heartbreaking journey. Now, caring for my mom, I’m much older, and hopefully a little wiser. Yes, it takes patience, but a host of other things too, like empathy, pausing to take care of ourselves and working hard to find something good each and every day, because as gut-wrenching as this journey can be, we know this season won’t last forever. So we have to milk the joy out of every day we have with them.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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