Dementia can change a person’s life in all aspects including relationships with friends, families and loved ones. Everyone can experience dementia differently. There can be changes in memory, behaviour feelings and personality.
For family members and caregivers, it can be a challenging and stressful task to support someone who is living with dementia. Caregivers can sometimes feel that they are invisible as they are also coping with their own adjustments to the changes in their family member and their relationship with them. The psychological and social effects dementia has on families and supporters is something we can’t ignore.
Caring for someone who is living with dementia can be mentally and physically exhausting. That’s why it is important to give yourself the permission to take a break if you feel that you are starting to “run on empty.” If you are a carer or close to someone who is living with dementia, this article is a must-read. Find out how you can take care of yourself while caring for someone with dementia.
Tip 1: Talk to your support network
Taking care of someone who is living with dementia can be quite tiring and stressful. As care needs increase, more energy, effort and attention is required from you. If you don’t look after yourself, it is very easy to be worn down both physically and emotionally. That’s why it’s important to have a network of family, friends and support services when caring for someone with dementia. Remember you are not alone. Reach out to your network of family and friends when you need to talk and if you feel it’s getting too much, it’s important to seek out some more formal support, starting with your GP
You can also join a support group in your local area. There are many support groups for family caregivers around Australia. Run by a facilitator, support groups bring together families and friends of people who are living with dementia and or in other caring roles to discuss challenges, concerns and stories. The facilitator is often a healthcare professional or someone who has lots of experiences caring for someone with dementia to provide advice you need. Contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or the Carer Gateway Service on 1800 422 737 for further information. If you need dementia specific resources, check out the Dementia Australia Library which has over 100 Help sheets on many topics relating to care giving and understanding dementia
Tip 2: Take control of your feelings
The most common feeling for caregivers who are looking after someone with dementia is the feeling of guilt. So often, the feeling of guilt is hard to resolve and can have a negative impact on your mental health which can also result in sadness, anger or frustration.
There are different reasons you may feel guilty. It could be you want to take a break and have time to yourself but feel guilty for leaving the person you’re caring for alone or with others. It could be you feel irritated about stressful situations when caring for the person, especially if they are losing things, repeating conversation continually or confusing facts and you lose your temper in frustration. It could be because you think you could have done a better job or handled a stressful situation differently. The feelings of guilt, therefore, can drain your energy reserves and make it more likely to lose your patience with the person.
There is no single way to help with these feelings. It is completely normal for you to feel this way. Acknowledging your feelings which can include guilt, anger, frustration and sadness is the first step and removing yourself from the situation before you express your feelings towards the person in a negative way. Second, you can express your feelings via different ways such as speaking to a trusted friend, seeking some professional support or writing a journal. There’s no easy way to go about resolving how you feel. If you struggle to let go and talk about your feelings, you can learn meditation or mindfulness where you develop breathing and other techniques to become more in tune with yourself and your surroundings. This will help calm your mind and release your emotions gently. Learn more ways to cope with your feelings. If you need help, speak with your GP or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or the Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737 www.carergateway.gov.au for further information about counselling and carer support.
Tip 3: Take a break
Taking a break is the most important thing you can do when caring for someone with dementia. It is a good opportunity for you to recharge, relieve frustrations and have time for yourself to sometimes do nothing or something that rejuvenates you. You can program regular weekly breaks into your week or consider a longer break .The common reasons why caregivers don’t take a break is because of feelings of guilt as a result of spending time apart, not knowing how to get help or what support is available to take a break, or simply feeling mutually responsible to be there 24/7 for the person. Remember taking care of yourself is as important as taking care of the person you are looking after if you are going to sustain your relationship for some time to come.
There are a number of respite programs available, offered by reputable aged care providers that you can both be part of. Respite care includes out of home respite including community outings and organized group programs, in home respite to engage in interests and hobbies, overnight in-home respite and 24/7 residential respite. It is important to recognize that high quality respite support can be equally as beneficial for your family member as it can be for you. Some providers even offer the flexibility of an overnight or short stays in a residential care home or in your own home over the weekend or overnight. When choosing a provider, remember to pick one with dementia specific supports and trained support workers so you have peace of mind when taking a break knowing that the person is appropriately cared for and comfortable. Contact My Age Care on 1800 200 422 for more information on respite providers in your local area.
If you need some time away from your caring role, ACH Group can help. We offer a wide variety of respite care such as one on one home based or individual and group community activities, including art groups and choir, residential respite, overnight flexible stays in your home and in residential care. Our trained support workers can help you take good care of the person you care for while you take a break. Call us on 1300 22 44 77 to discuss which options suit you and the person you care for.