Self-care is an essential and critical component of caregiving for a family member living with dementia. Although self-care can feel like a loaded term for you (caregiver), implying an additional task to be done, ignoring it could be detrimental to the wellbeing of your person living with dementia.
The reality is that caregiving is possible only as long as you are healthy – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Research has shown that poor physical and mental health of caregivers adversely affect the health and lifespan of the persons receiving care.
Moreover, neglecting self-care would ultimately push you and your person living with dementia into a crisis, forcing you to either place the person in care prematurely. Alternatively, you may have to hire a professional healthcare worker, totally unfamiliar to your person, leading to additional challenges.
Here are some strategies that would enable you to promote self-care and thereby avoid stress and burnout.
Involve the Family
Family is a great source of help for some caregivers and a source of distress for others. It is important to accept help from other members of the family if they are available, instead of providing care on your own. If you are distressed because your family members are not helping, or are perhaps even critical of you as the primary caregiver, it may be helpful to schedule a family meeting to discuss the care of the person.
Share your feelings
You need to share your feelings about your caring experiences with others. If you keep them to yourself, they can pull you down and affect your caregiving relationship. The more you realize that what you are experiencing is a natural response to your situation, the easier it will be for you to cope. Try to accept support willingly offered by others, even if you feel you are troubling them. Try to think ahead and have someone to turn to in an emergency.
Make time for yourself
It is essential that you make time for yourself. This would enable you to spend time with others, enjoy your favourite hobbies and, most importantly, enjoy yourself. If you need a longer amount of time away, try to find someone to take over the caring for you so that you can have a rest.
What can you do?
It’s important to understand that doing self-care activities may not feel good right away. As you make your self-care a priority it’s normal to feel frustrated and have thoughts such as “it’s useless” , “I don’t have time”, or it’s not working” to come up. This is a normal process of change. These thoughts and feelings will decrease with practice.
- Look ahead in your calendar, and find a time that works for you. The amount of time is up to you, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 1 hour.
- Then list the activity you plan to do:
- Are you planning a practical activity, like getting the bills paid, folding the laundry, a doctor’s appointment for yourself?
- Is it a pleasure activity, like a short walk, gardening, reading, coffee with a friend?
- Be mindful if you are scheduling more practical than pleasure self-care activities.
Know your limits
Try to figure out how much you can handle before it becomes too much. Most people will come to realize how much they can take on before they reach the point where the caring becomes too demanding. If you feel that you are getting close to your threshold, take action by calling for help to prevent and avoid a crisis.
Do not blame yourself
Do not blame yourself or the person with dementia for the situation you are facing. Remember, the disease is the one to blame. If you feel your relationship with friends and family is deteriorating, then also refrain from blaming them or yourself. Try to find what has caused the breakdown and discuss it with them. You relationships with others can be a valuable source of support for you.
Take and seek advice
It will help you to seek advice concerning your changing role and the changes that occur in the person with dementia.
You are important
You are important to yourself and important in the life of the person with dementia. Without you, the person would have no support. This is another reason why it is so essential to take care of yourself.
Learn to accept help
Learning to accept help may be new to you. However, as is often the case, your family, friends or neighbours may want to do something to help you and the person with dementia. But they may not know what might be helpful for you. A suggestion from you and perhaps some guidance will give them an opportunity to help. This may help someone else feel useful, help the person with dementia, and provide you with some respite as well.
Join A Support group
A caregiver support group can be another source of help for you. A support group provides an opportunity for care partners to come together, share their challenges and solutions, and support each other.
Contact Alzheimer Society of Calgary or the local Alzheimer’s organization
The Alzheimer Society is a major source of instrumental and emotional support for caregivers, at every step of their journey. Do not hesitate to contact them as and when you need support, and ask to speak to one of their social workers. They can provide you with information, and practical, specific, problem-solving strategies, and also connect you with the appropriate community resources.
Seek the help of medical professionals
Keep regular contact with your person’s physician and your own family physician. They can assist you with diagnosis and treatment of your person’s dementia, monitor your person’s health, arrange homecare assessment and assistance, and also monitor and maintain your health. Please seek medical assistance as and when you notice changes in your person’s condition and abilities.
Article written by Padmaja Genesh, Alzheimer Society of Calgary Learning Specialist.