Carers are often guilty of putting their own needs last and driving themselves to breaking point, putting their own physical and mental health at risk. This can be dangerous for both the carer and the person who is being cared for. Do you see yourself in this situation? What can you do to improve matters? The lessons below could be the most useful 5 minutes you have spent on yourself in a long while!
Lesson One – You are Not Superhuman
None of us is superhuman and no one can function for long without adequate sleep, rest, relaxation and social contact. Carers, particularly senior spouses, can find themselves increasingly isolated when caring for a partner with dementia as old friends fall by the wayside or are similarly coping with age-related health and personal problems. Family members may be far away or too busy to make contact on a regular basis and so senior couples can find themselves in a situation where they literally have not seen anyone or left home for weeks. This is not a good situation and should be avoided at all costs. Pride may also come into the equation, with a reluctance to admit that things are not going well and that help is required.
Lesson Two – Finding a Balance
Hobbies, social calls and activities should be continued for as long as possible. Wanting a few of hours to yourself is not selfishness or a sign of weakness on your part – it is essential for your well-being. An exhausted carer at breaking point is no help to anybody. You also need to remember that your own life will continue after your loved one is gone and it is very difficult to pick up the threads again if you become cut off from all your friends and interests.
Lesson Three – Socialise
Take up any offers of help that come your way and find out whatever assistance may be available to you through support associations and groups and organisations as well as social groups such as memory cafes. Encourage friends and family to visit. If need be, explain to them that you need the stimulus and pleasure of the visits too and if possible having someone sit with your loved one, going through old photo albums or listening to favourite music, while you have some personal time is a gift beyond price. If visitors are primed regarding safe topics of conversation and activities appropriate to the stage of the disease, a lot of pleasure can be derived from visits for all concerned and the good mood can linger on for many hours. We shall discuss optimising visits in a separate article.
Lesson Four – Exploit Available Resources
If respite care is available in your town, take advantage of it to recharge your batteries, knowing that your loved one is in safe hands. Depending on where you are this can take the form of a live in carer coming to your own home for a few days/ weeks while you take a break or it can be transferring your loved one to an appropriate facility for a time. The former often works better than the latter.
Thanks to the internet and facilities such as Skype staying in touch with the outside world is much easier than it used to be. Your loved one may even be able to benefit from Skype virtual visits from grandchildren and so on, even if he or she is no longer really aware of who they are.