Written by Active Minds on Monday the 17th of August 2020.
Being a carer for a person living with dementia, whilst vital, can also be difficult and exhausting. It is important that, as a carer, you feel fully supported by not just the friends and family around you, but also by reaching out to the variety of groups and charities available to you, such as Carers UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. These organisations are there to help with any questions you may have, offer advice and support, as well as provide you with invaluable tips on how to care for a person living with dementia. There are also organisations like SuperCarers who can support you when you might need to take a well-deserved break.
We’ve compiled some of their advice below:
Engaging your loved one in regular activities such as jigsaw puzzles, painting or reading a newspaper together, will not only help to engage their brain but will also help reduce stress and anxiety as well as giving a sense of accomplishment and independence.
Encouraging gentle exercise as often as possible is incredibly beneficial for your loved one living with dementia (as well as you!). Physically it will maintain strong muscles, flexible joints and may help prevent falls. Mentally it improves cognition, helps maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels, as well as reducing stress and feelings of isolation.
Exercise can take on many forms, whether it’s a walk to the local shops together, some light gardening or gentle walks around a local park. It also gives you and your loved one a chance to spend some quality time together, away from the chores of daily life, to talk and enjoy each other’s company.
Ensure you allow a person living with dementia to have a voice. Listen to them, be patient and try to empathise as much as possible. Often a person living with dementia may have their opinion or voice overlooked, so it’s important to make them feel that they are being listened to.
Offering choice to a loved one living with dementia will make them feel independent and maintain their self-confidence. However, try not to over complicate the choices, keep them to a minimum. For example, offer them a choice for breakfast, but keep the choice to two or three items, as any more could overwhelm and agitate your loved one.
Some people living with dementia may begin to struggle with food. They might have difficulties swallowing and chewing, or perhaps lose interest in eating all together. Offer regular, small meals – roughly five to six times a day. If your loved one struggles with chewing, if possible, eat meals with them, as they can then copy you.
Try to stick to healthy foods that offer nutrients and vitamins, such as leafy greens (which are high in folate and B9 – which improve cognition and reduce depression), or berries and cherries which contain anthocyanins which have been shown in various studies to modify some of the contributing factors of neurodegenerative conditions. Beans and legumes are another favourite as these contain folate, iron, magnesium and potassium that can help with general body function and neuron firing. As well as a B vitamin that boosts acetylcholine (a neuro transmitter critical for brain function).
Caring for a loved one can be extremely hard, especially over busy periods when routines are disrupted, and additional care may be needed. Our advice is helpful in allowing you to manage your care responsibilities with your day-to-day life, however it is important to take some time to yourself every now and again. Home care whether booked as respite or on a more regular basis can take the pressure off you and allow you to get away for some hard earned R&R. Organisations like SuperCarers can introduce you to reliable carers in your local area and help you provide the care your loved one deserves.
Dr Jamie Wilson, founder of HomeTouch and dementia physician explains that wellbeing as a carer is incredibly important.
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.
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.
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.
An important thing to look into if you are caring for someone is a carer’s assessment to see what might help make life easier. It can recommend things such as help with housework and shopping or put you in touch with local support groups. This assessment is free and accessible to those over 18.