It goes without saying that caring for a loved one who has dementia is an exhausting job, physically, emotionally and mentally. In many ways it echoes the tricky and often lonely period of time in our lives when we are caring for young children. Often the needs of the person you are caring for come before your own; and over time this can lead to not taking proper care of yourself.
It’s vital, however, that carers do make the time to look after themselves – after all, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. If you are feeling burnt out and with low energy your relationship with your loved one will suffer and you won’t be able to care for them in the best way.
We all know we should get plenty of sleep, keep physically active and eat our five a day, but how can we carve out that extra time we need to really replenish our resources? Here are a few ideas below that might strike a chord with you.
- Consider using technology to help you out. Order the groceries online, maybe while you’re cooking dinner and already thinking about food. This will save you a trip to the supermarket – use that extra time for a long walk, or meet a friend. Actively book it in your diary and don’t cancel it!
- Look into respite care. This is when someone comes to take over from you for anything from a few hours to a few days. Most authorities have some sort of respite care arrangements. A useful starting point is your local Alzheimer’s Society branch, Age UK or council social services department. They can tell you what is available in your area and how to access it. You may find that you have to be persistent and push to get the help you need. This can be frustrating and you may feel you don’t have the energy, but it is important to get the help you need.
- If you are feeling anxious or depressed go and talk to your GP, and find out what counselling services are available. While you are there, make sure he or she puts you on the Carers Register. This is a list of patients who are carers – which GPs have been asked to keep – to help support them and the people they care for.
- Don’t compare yourself to others in similar situations. Other people might look like they’re coping well but everyone’s situation is different and people are often facing hidden challenges we know nothing about. Focus on you and what’s right for you.
- Talk to other carers. It sounds obvious, but knowing you are not alone in your struggle can help to ease the powerful feelings of isolation, worry, guilt and stress. You can access the Dementia Network forum here, and connect with other carers who will no doubt be on a journey similar to yours. You may even find carers living locally to you who would appreciate some mutual support, or perhaps meeting for a cup of coffee.