Written by Active Minds on Wednesday the 14th of December 2016.
HomeTouch founder and dementia physician, Dr Jamie Wilson, explains how to maintain well-being as a dementia carer
Caring for someone with dementia can be both enormously rewarding and incredibly challenging. It can be easy to fall into the trap of concentrating all your attention on your loved one and neglecting your own mental, physical and emotional health.
Altruism is all well and good, but the truth is that to be an attentive, effective and compassionate family carer, you need to be well. Family caregivers report almost double the number of illnesses, chronic conditions and disability. Paying attention to your own well-being is not selfishness, it’s sensible. It can ensure that you have the energy, strength and patience to carry on caring.
As someone who works in the care industry I have witnessed first-hand the toll that caring for a loved one with dementia can take on family members. The evidence is clear. Too many family caregivers just keep on going, at the expense of their own health. Caring can be incredibly demanding on both mind and body. So it’s not surprising that in a survey, a staggering 87% of family carers said that their mental health had been negatively affected, with 83% feeling that their physical health had suffered too.
In the research, carers exhibited worryingly high levels of anxiety and stress, as well as increased levels of depression and physical problems including high blood pressure, back pain and the deterioration of existing medical conditions.
So, how can you stay well in mind, body and spirit?
A healthy body and mind
You probably know that eating a healthy balanced diet, taking time to exercise and getting enough rest can help you look and feel better. The trouble is, when you’re caring, those basic needs often go to the bottom of the to-do list.
Try and change your priorities, so that you stay fit and well enough to look after your loved one. Batch cooking, internet shopping and accepting the odd casserole from supportive friends can all help make eating nutritious meals a little easier.
Fix the finances
A dementia diagnosis can put a strain on the family purse and add to the pressure you feel. If you work, speak to your employers to see if you can change to flexible terms. If you need to stop work, you may be entitled to a carer’s credit so that your pension won’t be affected.
Check with Citizen’s Advice Bureau that you and your loved one are receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled. Finances can be a huge source of strain, sorting them can help your money and your mood.
A helping hand
It is not unusual for carers to feel embarrassed or ashamed at having to ask for help. But as dementia progresses it can be impossible to cope safely alone. The disturbance to the sleep wake cycle, wandering and continence problems of advanced disease can make it a relentless twenty-four-hour commitment.
It can help to seek assistance from friends and family, but also see your doctor for a care assessment and consider home carers to share the strain. Respite care in a day centre or residential facility could also help provide the break you need. By getting help earlier, you are actually more likely to be able to manage to care for your loved one at home for longer.
Take time out
Caring twenty-four hours a day can leave you exhausted and frustrated. Sadly, many people feel guilty if they have time off. But it is essential to take time for yourself to socialize, enjoy a hobby, read or travel. The time apart can leave you and your loved one refreshed and your relationship reinvigorated.
The research shows that people who have less social support are more likely to become stressed and depressed. So try and stay in touch with friends and family and make time to enjoy a little chat and a catch up, even if it’s on the phone.
They say that a problem shared is problem halved and it’s definitely true that opening up about your worries, can make them seem less overwhelming. Those close to you can be a huge help practically and emotionally-but sometimes it can help to speak to someone outside the family unit.
Professionals like GPs and counsellors can help. Also, many people who care for a loved one with dementia find support groups a great opportunity to chat, share experiences and even just have a moan!
The internet is another fantastic source of information and you can join in with discussion forums for a listening ear and a friendly comment, at any time of the day and night.
Treat yourself kindly
In my experience, too many family carers are tough on themselves. Try to remember that you are doing an amazing job, in difficult and demanding circumstances. Nobody is perfect. It’s OK to make the odd mistake, to feel grumpy and frustrated or to have negative feelings about your loved one. Try not to compare yourself. The truth is we all have weaknesses and suffer insecurities. Don’t judge yourself harshly.
Make time for joy
Sometimes when you’re busy it’s easy to forget about the simple things that make life worth living. Washing, brushing teeth and feeding are important, but so are the times of connection over music, photos or a tea in the sunshine.
Too often the relentless concentration on the activities of daily living can mean there is little space and time for those magical moments of connection and joy. Rediscover these and you’ll boost your well-being and that of your loved one.
What is HomeTouch?
HomeTouch was founded by NHS dementia physician, Dr Jamie Wilson, to raise the standard of home-based care.
HomeTouch provides choice, transparency and control to families looking for care at an affordable price whilst ensuring carers earn a Living Wage.
People in need of care can select their own carer by searching by postcode on the HomeTouch website (https://myhometouch.com) and by viewing videos of carers and reviews from previous clients. Depending on your preferred approach, you can either message the carer directly or speak to the HomeTouch team by phone before interviewing the carer to decide if they are the right match.
HomeTouch are supported by leading healthcare organisations such as BUPA, Guys and St Thomas’ Charity and NHS Choices, and are accredited with the Living Wage Foundation.