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Dealing with Frustration When Your Loved One Has Dementia: Teepa Snow Video Q&A

Merritt Whitley
By Merritt WhitleySeptember 26, 2020
Elderly man leaning against a window in frustration and despair about his dementia symptoms.

Caring for someone with dementia creates a roller coaster of mixed emotions. In some moments, you may feel perfectly fine, grateful to be with your loved one. Other times, you may feel sad, exhausted, or deeply frustrated. This is normal.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, certain techniques can lower your stress level in the moment and help you cope with a long-term dementia diagnosis. In this “Ask the Dementia Expert” episode, Teepa Snow shares top tips for dealing with frustration and finding support. Read highlights below or watch the full video.

Breathe, breathe, breathe

Teepa Snow: What I would say is take a deep breath. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. What I want you to do is called diaphragmatic breathing. When you’re feeling a sense of frustration, believe it or not, what you start doing is holding your breath a little bit, you tense your muscles, and you release cortisol and a little bit of adrenaline. That comes from your adrenal glands — right over your kidneys — but if affects you.

It can raise your blood pressure, up your heart rate, reduce your respiratory abilities, and it actually reduces your thinking skills, and makes you a little more tense and distressed.

Breathing turns out to be one of the most critical things you can do. Set an alarm on your phone five times a day, and when it goes off, take a deep breath and repeat three times.

Now, if you want to check if it had an impact, roll your shoulders backwards. If they actually move around in a big circle it means you reduced your distress level. You might find that your brain is working a little bit better, and that you’re thinking is a little clearer, and that you don’t feel so tense and distressed.

Find resources or support: Don’t do it alone

It’s time to take another step back if breathing isn’t working as well as it used to. If you’re not sure what you should change, I would say: are you a person that likes to talk to a bunch of people? Or are you a person that likes to think things through on their own?

What I’m describing is a person who wants to get connected. What you might be frustrated about is that you’re having a hard time connecting to the person you’ve always been able to connect to before. It’s a struggle for you, and you need some more connection. You need to get support. Find a support group, or someone who’s been through similar things, or check out some different resources. But you need to do something different for you, so you can do something different.

If you’re a person who likes to think it through on your own, it’s time to quit playing solo. What you’ll want to do is find another person — a counselor or someone who knows dementia really well — it’s another person to bounce ideas off of. It’s easy to get caught in your own inability to think beyond and you can become stressed again. When you’re feeling frustrated, step away from what’s frustrating you, and look at yourself and what you can do.

What do you still like about your loved one?

The final piece of the puzzle is to look at the person that you’re frustrated about and figure out what you still like about them. What do you truly still like about being with them, supporting them, helping them? What do you still like about this human being in this moment? If the answer is, “What is there to like?” I would say we need to give you some respite, and time to step back for you to heal and recover. We need someone else to step forward at least for a little while so you can take a break and reach a place where you don’t feel like you have to do something, and instead, you want to do it.

If we don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of someone you care about. We want to believe we can do anything — and you can — if you get the right support. Sometimes we let our tank go down to empty and then we only put a quarters worth of gas in the tank. At today’s prices, it’s not going to get us very far.

Are you taking care of you?

One of the things I advise people to really look at is: tell me what you still like, and are you taking care of you?

If not, maybe these are the things impacting your frustration. But first and foremost, try breathing and see what happens. You might surprise yourself. Research says you can drop your cortisone level and improve your brain chemistry and body health if you can take three deep breaths, five times a day. 

Merritt Whitley
Merritt Whitley
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