The importance of making time for yourself as a carer

It's all too easy to forget about yourself when you're caring for someone with dementia. Find out how to break the habit and create some 'me time' every day

Could this be you?

You know it would do you good to take time off and put your own needs first occasionally but...

•  You really don't have the time
•   It's a bit selfish and you'd feel guilty
•   You can manage without it

Here's why it isn't selfish and you can't manage without some 'me time':

You do a very difficult job

Caring for a loved one with dementia isn't only physically demanding, it is emotionally and mentally demanding too. Many carers feel overwhelmed, lonely and frustrated. If these feelings aren't addressed they can cause clinical depression. Some carers start to neglect their own health and become physically ill, reducing their ability to care and often resulting in their loved one prematurely going into a care home.

You need to take control

When your time is spent caring for someone else, it's easy to start feeling that they - not you - are in control of your life. This is another reason why carers can feel 'helpless' and become depressed.

It will make you a better carer

Having a chance to rest, relax, enjoy yourself and recharge your batteries won't only help to boost your mood, it could improve the way you do your job. Many carers say they come back to their work with renewed vigour and a clearer perspective on how to deal with challenges and difficult behaviour.

It could help your loved one

You may find this hard to believe, but the person you're caring for might also enjoy a break from you! Having the company of others can help relieve boredom and loneliness and provide extra stimulation, particularly if it involves them going to a day centre or joining a social group.

How to make it happen

Schedule it in

You need to consider 'me time' to be just as important as the other regular activities you do with the person you care for. So take a look at your daily care plan and find a way to incorporate at least 15 minutes every day for yourself.

Daily 'me time' could be having a coffee and reading a newspaper, soaking in a bubble bath, doing a crossword or painting your nails at the end of the day.

Make a list

If you're struggling to think of anything you could do with your 'me time' it could mean you've got out of the habit of thinking about yourself (many carers do). So make a list of simple things you enjoy doing and that make you happy. From buying yourself a bunch of flowers, to watching tennis on TV or reading a thriller. If you still find this hard, get inspiration and ideas from other carers you know or online in community forums.

Ask for help

Be honest with friends and family and explain that any help (even 30 minutes so you could go for a walk on your own) would be appreciated. You might be surprised by how easily they come on board.

When was your last carer's assessment? If the person you're looking after now has greater needs you might be entitled to extra help or short-term respite care. NHS respite care is free so start by going to your GP. You could also check out what help is available from local day care centres, or from charity befriender schemes. You may be able to get financial help towards a holiday for yourself or for both of you.

Good to know

• US research reveals that respite care doesn't only ease stress and depression in family carers, it can improve the relationship between the carer and the person with dementia.

• A study by researchers at Utah State University revealed that carers who look after their own mental health provide better care for their loved ones with dementia and can potentially slow down the progress of their illness by as much as 37 per cent.