I want to briefly highlight the challenges that people who care for loved ones with dementia face, and offer a few thoughts on how this group of unsung heroes can do more to help themselves.
When you're caring for someone with dementia, it can be all too easy to ignore your own needs and to forget that you matter too. The importance of looking after your own health and well-being is vital to help you cope. So, here are some tips on how to do this:
Make time for yourself
Make sure you have some regular ‘me’ time to relax or do something just for you. Put aside some time each day to do things which are just for you. Also, get out every week or so, to meet a friend, have your hair done, pursue an interest or take part in local activities. It is important to do something that you find enjoyable and that keeps you in contact with the outside world.
From time to time, book a regular break away. This will help you to recharge your batteries but the knowledge that you have a trip away planned and ‘in the bank’ so to speak will ease the daily routine. Please remember, there are plenty of options to support you in doing this without compromising the needs of the person you're caring for. For example, organisations such as mine regularly provide short term care and support to enable family members to take a much needed break.
Look after your health and wellbeing
If you are someone’s main carer, it is critical that you look after yourself. Caring can be both physically and emotionally draining and you need to be healthy and happy if you are to manage it.
Try to eat a well-balanced diet, with regular daily portions of fruit and vegetables. This will make you feel better and give you more strength and energy. Taking regular exercise will not only give you more energy but will often be part of your own personal time to get out of the house for a short while.
Make sure you get enough sleep. If your sleep is frequently disturbed by the person you care for, talk to your doctor, social worker or community psychiatric nurse about it.
If you have to help the person move around, for example getting them in and out of bed or assisting with washing and bathing, make sure you don't damage your back. Ask your GP to refer you to a community physiotherapist for advice. Again, your ability to provide support is compromised if every time you go to help you feel a twinge in your back or legs.
Don’t neglect the psychological impact on you of what you are doing. It can become incredibly stressful for someone living in this type of environment. See your GP on a regular basis to check up on your own health. Make sure they are aware of any stress or problems you are experiencing.
Philip Keohane is a regular contributer to Xn Magazine