If you care for someone with dementia, you are not alone. All over the world, people care for family members and loved ones as they live with dementia.
According to 2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, in the United States, about 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.The work that you do as a carer is important and valuable, because caring for a person with dementia may mean they can live at home for longer.
On a personal level, caring for someone with dementia is a huge investment. There are rewards — it can feel good to help someone you love and make a difference in that person’s life — but it’s not always a bed of roses. Caring for someone with dementia is hard work, time-consuming and sometimes stressful, and you may find you have less time and headspace to look after yourself.
It’s important to take care of your own physical and emotional health. As a carer, you may need to take special steps to do that, but it pays off because you will soon feel better and have more physical and mental energy.
Let’s look at a few steps you can take.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. It almost seems too obvious, doesn’t it? When you eat healthy food, you feel healthy. Yet when you are feeling stressed or you are short on time, it’s easy to reach for the quick meals, the processed foods that keep longer and don’t require much preparation. That can be a vicious cycle, and the lack of healthy food will have you reaching for more of the same.
But boosting your healthy food intake doesn’t need to take too much time or preparation. Try to get fresh fruits and vegetables when you go to the grocery store, or order them online if you can’t get to the supermarket. Home-cooked meals are satisfying to make and eat, and they will help to satisfy your health needs, too. Dig out the recipe books or watch cooking shows on TV for inspiration on how to make enjoyable, healthy food.
Get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes when you are a carer, you may only have time to yourself at night. It’s tempting to catch up with the news on TV or social media sites like Facebook, and before you know it, it is past midnight and you are still wide awake. Sleep is important for our brains and bodies to work well, so try to limit the screens at night and get to bed at a reasonable hour. If you can, get into the habit of going to bed at roughly the same time each night; your brain loves regular sleep patterns!
Keep connected. When you care for someone with dementia, it can have a negative effect on your social life. Maybe you used to go out more to events or to meet up with friends. Maybe you used to walk the dog and chat with people you met along the way. Maybe people used to drop by for a cup of tea and a chat. That can change when you become a carer, and you may find yourself becoming socially isolated. Our brains work better when we have social connections, and it feels good to keep in contact with people, so build up a group of friends, family and maybe even some fellow carers who are there for a chat, even on the phone.
Seek support. In an ideal world, we would all eat well, sleep well and have lots of social connections, but the world is not ideal, and we all need a little help. Talk to your doctor about how to keep yourself healthy as a carer. Also see for tips for carers and families of people with dementia and where to find support groups.
Also, check out this short film developed by scientists at Trinity College Dublin and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland about caring for carers.