You might not be called Maureen and you can’t count the number of times you’ve had to pretend to make a new cup of tea because your Mum insists you forgot. What you are is a carer for a dementia sufferer and you have one of the hardest jobs around.
Caring for someone with dementia is hard. Their condition can make them fickle and unpredictable. It can also be hard on you emotionally as you watch your parent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister vanish into nothing.
Symptoms of Dementia
The main symptoms of dementia are:
- Memory loss
- Confusion and an inability to think clearly
- Disorientation – getting lost easily or losing track of time
- Loss of concentration – finding it hard to follow conversations or TV programmes
- Mood swings and personality changes
Depending on the type of dementia there may also be physical issues to contend with such as incontinence, difficulty in eating or swallowing and mobility problems.
It can be challenging changing your behaviour to that of a caregiver, especially in the case of parents to whom you may have looked up to for many years. Remembering to speak slowly and clearly, avoiding seeming impatient or angry at them when they struggle to comprehend a simple question, and performing daily tasks such as helping them put on socks or brush their teeth is tiring.
You may experience a wealth of emotions yourself as you care for your loved one. You will almost certainly feel sad from time to time as well as frustrated, angry and worried. These are normal emotions to experience as a caregiver but if you feel that you are being overwhelmed by them it is important to talk to other family members or your friends rather than bottling them up.
Many people with dementia seem to live in the past. They can remember their cousin Richard (the one that died in 1972) but can’t seem to manage to get your name right now. It can be emotionally very stressful to be ignored and not recognised by someone you know and love deeply and it is important to take a step back and remind yourself that it’s not their fault and that your loved one is struggling too.
Taking time for yourself
Whilst extremely important for your well-being, perhaps the biggest challenge of caring for a loved one with dementia can be ensuring that you have some time to yourself. You may be able to catch a few hours if your relative can attend a day centre – but not all elderly people find the environment pleasant or relaxing.
Another possibility is to arrange for a home help to spend time caring for your relative. This could be for anything from a few hours a day to someone to provide live in care on a 24/7 basis, either as respite so you can take a holiday or permanently, allowing you to restart your own life again. It isn’t easy taking care of someone with dementia, but with the right support you can maintain their care whilst being able to juggle what you have going on in your own life too.