Managing caregiver guilt

Nova Scotia

Couple resting on a bench

Managing caregiver guilt

Those caring for a person living with dementia can experience a range of emotions, one of which is guilt. You may feel like you’re not doing a good enough job or may be struggling to accept help. These feelings are completely normal, and you’re not alone in feeling them.

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings so you can begin to work through them. Below is a list of common situations that might lead to guilt, with some advice on managing your feelings.


Thinking that other caregivers seem to be coping better than you

When you connect with other caregivers, through support groups or otherwise, sharing experiences might make you think other caregivers are coping better than you. This may lead to you feeling guilty that you haven’t lived up to expectations.

It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect caregiver, and not to be too hard on yourself. Ask yourself if you’re being realistic in your expectations of yourself? It’s okay to lower your expectations or to ask for more help.


Looking back on how you treated the person before they were diagnosed

Caregivers often feel bad about how they may have treated the person they’re caring for before they were diagnosed with dementia. You may have been irritated with them, and let it show.

Remember, you didn’t know that they had dementia and there was no way for you to have known what was coming. Dementia can have a serious effect on a person’s behaviour and personality, and without knowing the cause these changes can be difficult to understand.


You got angry or irritated

It’s not uncommon for a caregiver to have an outburst aimed at the person they’re caring for when they are feeling frustrated. You might find it hard to forgive yourself for this.

Caregiving can be very stressful, and frustration is natural. Taking some time for yourself can help to reduce stress. And, in times when you feel yourself getting frustrated, it can be helpful to leave the room for a few minutes.  


Wanting time apart

Taking time to yourself may cause you to feel some guilt. But it’s important for caregivers to take some time away to recharge and do things you enjoy. Doing this may make you feel more positive, and in turn better able to care for your person.

If the person you’re caring for can’t be left alone, don’t be afraid to ask friends or family to take over for a few hours or even a few days.


Accepting help

You might feel like you should be able to manage your caregiving duties without any help, but caring for a person with dementia can be exhausting and help is important.

Though it’s a bit more difficult during the pandemic with some community services unavailable, it’s okay (and encouraged!) to ask for and accept help from friends and family.


Moving into long-term care

Feeling guilty about choosing to move the person you’re caring for to long-term care is completely normal. Often, caregivers think they’re letting the person down and that they should have kept them at home longer. Maybe you had promised the person that you’d always keep them at home and now you feel like you’re breaking that promise.

It’s important to remember that you were in a different place when you made that promise, and it’s okay to accept that you can no longer fulfill it. Choosing long-term care doesn’t mean you have to give up caregiving entirely, you’ll just be doing it in a different way.


If you need to talk, we're here to listen. Call us at 1-800-611-6345. 


Adapted from Guilt and dementia: How to manage guilty feelings as a carer from Alzheimer’s Society (UK)