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Caring for a loved one who has dementia, although extremely rewarding and something you wouldn’t have any other way, can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. As the amount of care a person needs increases, so do the demands placed on their carer.

Even though your number one priority may be the person you are caring for, it is imperative when caring for someone with dementia, that you look after yourself and consider your needs too. You can’t care for someone else if you’re not looking after yourself and caring will only become increasingly more difficult.

Carers of those with dementia often experience feelings of isolation, stress and even depression as they generally put the physical and mental health needs of the person they are caring for, before their own.

Every day is different and some days may be more challenging than others, it is important to remember that as much as the person you are caring for needs your support, you need support too.

How to take care of yourself whilst caring for your loved one with dementia:

Take breaks – Many carers find that taking regular breaks mean they can recharge and avoid total exhaustion. Respite care can be informal, such as asking family or friends to step in and take over the caring responsibilities for a period of time (this may be an hour, a day, or a week etc.) or can be formally provided through respite services. Respite also gives your loved one chance to socialise with someone else.

Support groups – Alzheimer’s Australia offers a range of support groups for carers, friends and family of those with dementia. This gives carers an opportunity to share common experiences in an understanding space.

Find time to do you – Caring may be a full-time job, but it’s important to remember what you enjoy doing when you’re not caring for your loved one, and find time to do those things. Whether it be exercising, playing a sport, cooking, watching movies or catching up with friends – whatever it is, it’s important to schedule regular time to do the things you enjoy most.

Confront your feelings – Carers often feel guilty, especially when taking breaks or going about their own leisure activities. If you are having feelings of guilt or anxiety, it is important to talk these over with a friend, family member or allied health professional. It is important to confront these feelings so you can go about your daily life, when not being a carer, and enjoy your own time. This will, in turn, make you a better carer.

Know your limits and ask for help – Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether this be from allied health professionals, other family members, or someone who has experience caring for someone with dementia. This may even be asking if someone can help with the shopping or the housework. Being a carer is extremely demanding and there is always support available, even if you feel like you are on your own.

The bottom line is that to give the best possible care to your loved one, you have to ensure you are still taking care of your own needs, and prioritising your life too. It is extremely important to continue partaking in activities and exploring interests that you enjoy outside of the role of caring. You have to remember – the person you are caring for would ultimately want you to look after yourself too. It is essential for your physical and mental health and wellbeing, and will make you a better carer!

This blog post first appeared on Envigor’s blog.

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Tracey Silvester
Tracey Silvester is Executive Manager of Envigor and has more than 25 years’ experience in health and aged care services. Tracey is committed to ensuring that our elders are able to exercise their right to choose how they live their lives regardless of their ability or function. Tracey is a Registered Nurse and has a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Health Management. She is also an Associate Fellow of the Australian College of Health Service Management and a surveyor with the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards.