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Looking after yourself when you’re caring for someone with dementia
Caring for a person with dementia can be physically and mentally demanding, so it’s vital that you also look after yourself. Here’s how you can stay well, maintain healthy relationships, and get the support you need.
Many people who have a family member with dementia find themselves in the role of full-time or part-time carer. And when you are looking after someone around the clock, you might find it difficult to think about your own needs, get enough rest, or take part in activities you enjoy.
But you may not be able to continue caring for the person with dementia if you neglect your health, or if you don’t have enough support or time to recharge your batteries.
It’s a bit like putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else during a flight emergency: by looking after yourself first, you’re more likely to have the strength to look after the person you care for.
It’s important not to ignore your own health needs.
Niggling pains or feelings of anxiety or depression, for example, might seem like the least of your worries.
But if you are having physical or mental health symptoms, you should visit your GP so any illnesses or conditions can be properly diagnosed and treated.
Other tips to keep you healthy include:
- keeping up with regular dentist, optician and hearing checks
- making time to be physically active – go for walks, play sports, swim, do yoga or join local exercise classes
- keeping your mind active – read books or the newspaper, do puzzles an
As the person’s dementia progresses, you may find that your caring role overtakes your relationship with them as a spouse, family member or friend. But while your relationship will change, it can still bring you both enjoyment.
Rather than focusing only on the care you have to provide, try to find activities that you can still do together to strengthen your connection.
You could try:
- listening to music together
- watching a favourite film or musical
- going for a walk
- looking at pictures of places you have travelled to
- going through photos of the two of you together
- physical touch, such as a hand massage
You may feel like you have no time to spend with other family members and friends, or that having a life outside of your caring responsibilities is unimportant or even selfish.
However, it’s really important to ensure you stay in contact with friends and family.
This can give you opportunities to talk to other people about what you’re going through and allow them to support you, as well as giving you vital time out to enjoy each other’s company.
- Let family members know what your caring responsibilities involve. Very often, other people don’t realise just how much you’re doing. Ask them to help – perhaps by sitting with the person with dementia once a week – so you can have a break
- If possible, divide the various caring tasks you have amongst the family – it may be useful to create a rota
- Schedule a visit from a friend, or a phone or video call, at a time when the person you’re caring for is asleep or at a day centre. Even a short conversation could lift your spirits
- Speak to your GP or Social Services about respite care, financial benefits and other services that are available to help you in your caring role. Registering as a carer with your GP surgery – which usually just involves filling in a simple form – means you’ll be entitled to a range of support
Keeping up with your other relationships and activities that bring you pleasure means that when your caring responsibilities change or stop – for example, if the person with dementia goes into a care home and no longer needs as much care from you – you still have things to enjoy and people to spend time with.
For any questions or concerns about looking after yourself as a carer or any other aspect of dementia, you can contact our free Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday-Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you prefer, you can pre-book a phone or video call in our virtual clinic at dementiauk.org/get-support/closer-to-home/.
Dementia UK information that you might find useful:
Coping with feelings of guilt
When someone with dementia stops recognising you
Caring from a distance
The emotional impact of a dementia diagnosis
Changing roles and relationships
0808 808 7777
0300 772 9600
Revitalise – respite breaks for disabled people and carers
0303 303 0145
Mind – the mental health charity
0300 123 3393
Download our Coping with feelings of guilt leaflet
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Whether you have a question that needs an immediate answer or need emotional support when life feels overwhelming, these are the ways our dementia specialist Admiral Nurses can support youGet support
Publication date: September 2020
Review date: September 2022