The person you are caring for needs you to be emotionally, physically and psychologically on your game all the time (or at least as much as is humanly possible). That means looking after yourself. As well as knowing what you’re dealing with. Here’s the essentials of caring for yourself so you can care for your loved one.
What is dementia?Dementia is not a specific condition or disease. It is a term that is used to describe a range of symptoms associated with loss of memory, thinking skills and behaviour skills that significantly reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells. As a result, brain cells have difficulty communicating with each other. The type of dementia that a person has depends on which cells have been damaged.
Knowing what you’re dealing withIt is important to learn as much as you can about dementia so that you are well prepared to deal with the issues that will arise as a carer. Speak to the medical personnel dealing with the person you are caring for, ask questions, and ensure you understand exactly what they are saying. It’s not enough to know about dementia in general, you will need to fully understand the particular type of dementia that your person has developed.
Managing your feelingsAmong the most common types of emotional feelings that you are likely to encounter as a carer of someone with dementia are those related to guilt, anger and grief. Guilt rears its head for several reasons. You may feel guilty because:
- you feel you are not fulfilling your carer duties to expectations;
- you sometimes get frustrated, impatient or angry toward the person you are caring for;
- you sometimes wish you did not have to care for this person;
- you are neglecting the needs of other important people in your life;
- you wish you had more time for your own interests;
- you are embarrassed by the public behaviour of the person you are caring for;
- you are planning to move the person into a care facility.
- Acknowledge your feelings and try to determine why you feel the way you do. You may be able to avoid such strong feelings next time.
- Don’t take on more than you are capable of. Nobody (except perhaps yourself) expects you to be a superhero. And certainly don’t compare yourself to others.
- Tell someone about your feelings. They can help with perspective and be a support for you. The person you talk to can be someone close to you or a professional.
- Try to rid yourself of negative thoughts before you go to bed at night, or at least when you wake up. Try to start each day in a positive frame of mind.
- Identify a ritual or practice or activity that calms you down and makes you feel better.
- If possible, do not make decisions while in an emotionally fragile state.
- Prioritise what needs to be done. Sometimes the least important matters take care of themselves or end up not needing to be done.
Keeping fit and healthyWhile there is a focus on ensuring people with dementia keep fit and healthy, it is equally important that carers do too. Therefore, it is important to:
- maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet and eat regularly.
- maintain a regular physical exercise regime. Try to dedicate yourself to some form of physical exercise for 30 minutes every day.
- keep your brain active – try a crossword or sudoku puzzle every day.
- maintain your own interests and hobbies.
- continue to socialise with family and friends.
- get regular, undisturbed sleep.