4 things dementia carers should do
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- On 1st April 2016
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When caring for a person with dementia, life will be easier if you can do these four things.
Words: Christina Macdonald
There’s nothing to be gained by looking back at the past and wishing you could have done things differently. But if I had my time again, I’d do these four things early on when I first began caring for my mother…
- Learn to delegate – This may sound like advice reserved for professional people but it’s equally relevant when it comes to caring for a person with dementia. There’s a huge pressure on us in modern society to demonstrate our strength and take on everything life throws at us. This simply won’t work when caring for a person with dementia. Try and do it all on our own and you’re guaranteed to burn yourself out. Being a carer is time consuming, unpredictable and can sometimes be an emotional and physical drain. Even if you don’t have a big family or a large circle of helpful friends, caring for a person with dementia should never be a one-person job. You’ve got the person’s health at stake, as well as your own. You owe it to them to do everything you can to help them receive the best possible care. But that doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. Delegation is an inevitable and essential part of being a carer in my view.
If you don’t have family members you can rely on, then get friends to help out or seek help from local support groups. Age UK has a befriending service comprised local volunteers, and there may be a local Alzheimer’s Society office in your area. Ask around. Help may come from unlikely sources when you least expect it. My mother’s hairdresser unexpectedly volunteered to visit my mother once a week. I hadn’t asked for her help, but I welcomed it with open arms. Talk to neighbours and friends and you may be surprised by who comes forward. And provided you like and trust the person offering the help, take every bit of assistance you can get, even if it’s just for an hour or two a week. The day I decided to enlist help from both professional and personal carers was the beginning of a much smoother routine for everyone.
- Don’t take things to heart – When you’re doing your best for the person with dementia, you may feel frustrated when they don’t appear to appreciate what you’re doing for them. You may be making huge sacrifices and giving up your spare time to care for them. So when the person is angry, irritable or even critical of your attempts to help them, it can be hugely upsetting. Don’t take it personally. They will have good days and bad days. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they must be feeling. They may not like something else doing things for them, and may be frustrated that they can’t remember many things or do certain things they used to enjoy, like driving, or going out for a walk on their own. Their life has changed too – it may take time for them to accept this.
- Always listen to your instincts – if the person with dementia is refusing help, but you think they need it, or if you disagree with an assessment made by a social worker or a medical professional, seek a second opinion. You are better placed than most to know what they need. If you feel strongly about something, challenge or question it. Always be in the person’s corner. Champion their needs. You know the person better than anyone.
- Learn as much as you can about dementia – The more you understand about it, the more accepting you will be of what can often seem like completely unreasonable behaviour from the person on some occasions. Read about it, learn about it, talk to others affected, and come along to The Alzheimer’s Show and soak up information from experts and other carers. Become an expert in understanding symptoms of dementia. It will make you a better carer. Take note of what works when providing care and what doesn’t. I know how to make my mum laugh when she needs it, and how to calm her down when she’s angry. But it’s taken me years to learn these skills. Now that I understand what she needs, I’m a more patient carer.