Are your stress levels soaring? You’re not alone. In 2015, the charity, Carers UK, surveyed 5000 carers across the UK and the results showed that 84 per cent of carers feel stressed. In addition, 78 per cent feel more anxious these days and a whopping 55 per cent reported that they suffered from depression as a result of having to care for someone. These findings had increased since 2014. There are approximately seven million carers in the UK – that’s one in ten people. Three in five of us will be a carer at some point in our lives. It seems that stress is, unfortunately, part and parcel of being a carer, at least for some of the time. So how can you combat stress when you’re unable to change your circumstances?
Firstly, I’m not going to sugarcoat your situation. I won’t tell you to relax to soothing music or take long baths in aromatherapy oils – unless that’s what you want to do! The harsh reality of the situation you are in is still there. My best advice for reducing your stress levels as a dementia carer is to take control of your situation as much as you possibly can. You may argue that it’s impossible to take control when most days can be unpredictable. I know that dementia throws up many unexpected situations. A person can be fine one moment and angry the next. They may be smiling one moment and crying the next. There are many random moments and many peaks and troughs. That’s the reality of dementia and anyone who is caring for a loved one knows this.
However, I do strongly feel that there are several things you can do that will ease your stress just a little bit and give you back a bit of control.
Know who you can count on – Firstly, enlist help and support from reliable sources. Don’t waste time trying to persuade family members who don’t want to help that you need them to pitch in and do their bit. If they’ve been unhelpful and unreliable so far, there’s probably very little you can say or do to make them change their ways. Find help and support from people you know you can rely on. When caring for my mum, I had minimal support from family, but I did have several close friends who were wonderful. They visited mum or called her when I was unable to and I knew they could be relied upon to help out. in short, if I asked them to do something to help mum and they said yes, I knew they would do it. This was in stark contrast to a family member who said he would visit my mum and failed to turn up. In short, be realistic about who you can turn to for help.
Plan ahead for the future – My views on this are mixed. Don’t worry about where your loved one will be in two, three- or five years’ time, as it’s impossible to predict how their condition will change, other than to know they will require more help and support as things progress. Worrying too much will drive you mad and it’s pointless. I feared that my mum would need to move out of the nursing home she was in if her savings dried up. This never happened, yet I worried about it happening for two years. Don’t worry about the long term but do plan for the long-term as much as you can. Talk to your loved one now about the type of care they would like to have in future (if they are in the earlier stages of the condition) or start to look into care and nursing homes that may meet their needs. Do it sooner rather than later. Even if they are refusing to go into a care home, don’t eliminate this as a choice. They may not have a choice in the long term.
Organise paperwork now – If you haven’t already done so, organise Lasting Power of Attorney – visit: https://dementiahelpuk.com/lasting-power-of-attorney-explained/ and make sure you know where the person’s bank statements and bills are kept so that you can either manage their finances or help them do it when they need your support.
Get financial support to ease the care burden – Your loved one should be receiving Attendance Allowance (or Personal Independence Payments if they are under the age of 65) – visit https://www.gov.uk/attendance-allowance and may also be entitled to NHS Continuing Healthcare – visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-care-and-support-guide/money-work-and-benefits/nhs-continuing-healthcare/. Make sure they are getting the financial help they need so that you can get help with their care. Age UK provided a cleaner for my mum (which was paid for by her Attendance Allowance) and she also had Meals On Wheels which ensured she received a nutritious hot meal every day. The financial help she received was very useful in covering these vital support services.
Start talking – when you’ve had a bad day with your loved one, or you’re just feeling a bit low, you need to offload. Don’t bottle things up. It won’t solve your problems, but it will make you feel better knowing that someone is there to listen to and empathize with what you are having to deal with. Sometimes we just need a good moan.
Get some air – a walk outside in the fresh air will make you feel a little bit less stressed. A brisk walk around the block may be all that’s needed to calm you down if things have been heated at home.
Use Dementia Help to vent – feeling exasperated or even baffled by something that just happened? Vent on our Facebook page. Share your frustrations and stress with other carers in the same situation as you. It will make you feel better knowing that others understand your struggles.
Take some exercise – on that note, exercise is a great way to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Cycling, jogging, running, doing an exercise class – anything that takes you out of your caring environment and raises your heart rate will make you feel better. When caring for my mum, I used running to help me stay calm. I knew it wouldn’t solve my problems, but it certainly improved my mindset and therefore made be better placed to cope with my problems. After doing a short run, I felt like I’d let off some steam and found myself being more patient with my mum. And when my mum was caring for my late father, I looked after him one day a week so she could go out and do her favourite dance class. She needed that time away from the home to recharge her batteries and feel like a normal person doing normal things again.