It’s been said that we always hurt the ones we love… and yet we behave so much better around strangers. You know this is true if you have ever had a teacher rave about your child’s gleaming behavior at school; their willingness to share; their kindness to fellow students… and you’ve thought to yourself:
“ARE YOU REALLY TALKING ABOUT MY CHILD?”
We scratch our heads in disbelief when we see this same child misbehave at home, a sideways smirk on their face as they rudely take their younger brothers toy trucks or manipulate the game boy out of their sisters hands.
The same holds true for our family as they age. When a parent or older adult in our lives begins to develop symptoms of dementia, we find ourselves on the receiving end of foul language, raging outbursts and fits of frustration that mirror a child’s tantrum.
Initially as the caregiving process takes hold of our lives, we feel abused by their actions. We personalize their experience. We cannot help but use the years worth of baggage and our relationship with them to define how and why they are behaving the way they are.
We may even find their rude remarks, lack of filter and standoffish ways an embarrassment and reason not to consider outside assistance. How can we ask someone else, complete strangers, to step in and help with their daily care when they are so out-rightly rude? How can we explain the behavior away?
The reality is, caregivers should not feel alone in their dilemma. They should not have to trouble themselves with fear of potentially shameful humiliation. As a caregiver I am here to say: YOUR ARE NOT ALONE. Just as our children are cognizant to mind their manners and be on their best behavior around strangers, the same holds true as we age. Whatever the reason, it is more common than not for a person with dementia to behave kinder, more polite and mindful when in the presence of people they do not know.
Children do this because they are practicing the concept of “testing the limits”. This is how they learn what is acceptable and tolerated. As adults there are countless reasons that support this truism.
Perhaps it is the history we hold between each other, or the intimate knowledge that we will be there for each other NO MATTER WHAT, REGARDLESS OF HOW BADLY WE BEHAVE. Additionally it could be a regression to a simpler time when we felt more comfortable expressing our truest selves to those that care for us the most.
Regardless, the reality is we do hurt the ones we love. Caregivers fear the hurtful behavior will spill over onto others (strangers) that help. So, keep this in mind the next time a family caregiver is hesitant to accept outside assistance or a helping hand from a neighbor. It is not an act that should be judged and criticized but rather deeply understood. They may be operating from a place of self preservation, not only for themselves but for the memory of their loved one. They may want to keep you from harm and protect the memory of the sweet person their parent used to be.