You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the things which you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Many readers know I often write about my experiences at Memory Matters. As a dementia care specialist, I facilitate support groups and meet with families individually. I feel blessed to be able to do this work that inspires me and hopefully helps others.

Not long ago I wrote an article about caregivers knowing the difference between “can’t” and “won’t” when referring to their loved one with dementia. For example: “She won’t do anything anymore. She just sits and watches TV or follows me around. I am tired of it.”

I want to say things that I should not, so I keep quiet. But here, I can say it for the benefit of all.

Let me assure you that your loved one does not follow you around to make you angry. He or she does not get up in the morning and set out to ruin your day.

One can decide either to be miserable in their role as a caregiver or learn about the disease and where to get support. It is a choice to try to be happy or be unhappy.

Your loved one does not have this choice. Their brain is broken. They are dependent on you to help them, to love them, to nourish them. Yes, you are only human and can get frustrated, angry, tired, or even wish that you could run away and leave all this behind.

But the reality is that this is your life. Accept it and do the best you can with the resources available. And there are plenty.

These are some of my suggestions for you to try:

  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself and stop being angry. Most of these feelings come from lack of knowledge about how to best live with someone with dementia. If you understand the disease, then you will stop expecting the impossible from your family member. He is not going to remember something you said five seconds ago. She is not going to grab the vacuum and start cleaning. He is not going to prepare a meal or call a plumber. People with dementia cannot do these things anymore. Accept this and surround yourself with people who can help.
  • Laugh everyday. Call a friend, read a funny story. Decide you are going to be happy.
  • Get exercise. Get out and get some fresh air. Don’t say “I don’t have time.” If you want to do this you can make time.
  • Pray and meditate every day for the strength to be the best caregiver you can be. There are so many great websites to help you learn to do simple meditation.
  • Be open to resources. Memory Matters can help you make a successful plan.

On Nov. 16 from 4 to 5 p.m., Memory Matters will host a Candle Light event for caregivers, past and present, to remember and honor their loved ones. Call 843-842-6688 for more information.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head.