How to cope with dementia carer stress

There’s no denying that caring for a loved one with dementia can be very stressful, but whilst some stress is normal and manageable, if you regularly feel overwhelmed you could be heading for burnout. Here’s how to spot the signs…

Could this be you?

Take a look at the statements below:

1. You can’t sleep properly (even when your loved one does).
2. You’re permanently exhausted and can’t be bothered to do things you used to enjoy.
3. You suffer stomach complaints, headaches or have other aches and pains you can’t seem to shift.
4. You get angry and snappy with your loved one when they repeat themselves or behave in a way that you know they can’t help.
5. You worry constantly about money, future finances and how you’ll be able to manage.
6. You’ve lost your appetite and aren’t eating properly - or are eating too much and have gained weight.
7. You’re having anxiety or panic attacks.
8. You’re drinking or smoking too much.
9. You pretend everything’s fine and rarely ask for help.
10. You often feel tearful and emotional when you think about ‘what might have been’ if your loved one hadn’t been diagnosed with dementia.

Now be honest with yourself. How many of these statements sound familiar? Do you recognise yourself in quite a few of them? Remember, stress doesn’t only affect you mentally, it can lead to physical ill health which, in turn, can impact on your ability to be a good carer.

So even if you find it hard to put yourself first (many carer’s do), if you’re determined to do the best you can for your loved one, you need to start taking care of yourself, too.

Here’s how:

1. Have a carer’s assessment

Your local social services department might be able to offer you help with day to day caring, or provide you with equipment to make life easier. But first, you have to be assessed by them. So phone them today and ask if you can have a carer’s assessment. Even if you aren’t entitled to free help, they might be able to suggest other ways of getting support so it’s definitely worth doing.

2. Lower your expectations

Many carers simply expect too much of themselves. Take a look at your daily care plan and ask yourself if it can be modified. Do you really need to drive to a local beauty spot for a walk when the park is far nearer? Does every meal have to be cooked from scratch? If many of your efforts seem to go unnoticed and unappreciated, they might be creating more stress than they’re actually worth.

3. Learn more about dementia

Repetitive behaviour can be incredibly difficult to deal with on a daily basis but understanding why it’s happening, can make it more manageable. The same applies to challenging behaviour such as aggression, and awkward questions. The more knowledge you have about the different approaches to dementia care the less helpless you’ll feel. There are lots of great books that have really helped other carers.

4. Take a break

Okay, so this does sound pretty obvious but it’s amazing how many carers neglect themselves and their need for ‘me time.’ Are you always coming up with excuses as to why you can’t take a few hours off? Do you think respite care will be too difficult to manage or your loved one might refuse to go anywhere without you – even a day centre? Try to keep an open mind, you could be pleasantly surprised.

5. Learn to relax

Many carers say they’ve ‘forgotten’ how to relax and with so many demands on their time it’s easy to see why. But just about everyone can manage to put aside 10 minutes every day to listen to a relaxation CD. Perhaps you and the person you’re caring for could do something together. A yoga or Pilates DVD might help you both to feel calmer.

6. Have a health check

It’s sadly common for carers to neglect their own health and skip doctor’s appointments because they don’t have time, or cancel them because the person they’re caring for is having a bad day. As a result, minor ailments can become major ones. Even if you don’t feel particularly unwell but haven’t seen a doctor for years, it’s worth making an appointment for a general health check. Most GPs offer midlife health MOTs every five years for people aged 40-74.

7. Spiritual support

Are you neglecting your faith? Perhaps you’re struggling to make sense of your loved one’s diagnosis. If so, you might find solace in your religion, or in a new spiritual belief. Don’t discount the help you may be able to get from your vicar, rabbi, priest, imam, or spiritual advisor.

8. Counselling

Dementia carers are unfortunately at high risk of depression but the good news is there are lots of ways to get help. Start by asking your GP to refer you for counselling on the NHS. You can sometimes refer yourself – pick up a leaflet about Talking Therapies at your local GP practice.

9. Change your mind

It can be hard to think positively when life feels such a daily struggle, but the age-old practise of ‘counting your blessings’ can help put even the bleakest, most stressful day into perspective. Try to find at least three things to be grateful for each day. It can be as simple as a sunny afternoon, a smile from your loved one, or a perfect cup of tea. Get in the habit of writing them down each day, or download a free gratitude journal app on your phone (there are hundreds to choose from). The more you do it, the easier it gets and the better you’ll feel.

10. Get support from your peers

It’s all very well being told how to beat stress from other well-meaning friends and experts, but nothing beats confiding in someone who really knows what you’re going through… because they’re going through it too. Although everyone’s dementia journey is unique, you might be comforted to find similarities in experiences, and heartened by tips and advice others can offer. Go here now to get instant support.