If you are caring for a parent or elderly relative with dementia, it can put a strain on your other personal relationships. Your partner may not understand how dementia affects a person’s ability to cope on their own and may not understand or even resent the amount of time you are spending looking after your parent. It’s easy for you to feel overwhelmed too and feel that your partner could be doing more and isn’t as supportive as you’d like them to be. The key lies in good communication between the two of you. If you feel that you aren’t getting the support you need from them, sit down and explain how you feel. Tell them you are struggling to cope on your own and be specific about the type of support you need. It’s never easy to have this type of conversation, and you may feel you shouldn’t have to, but it can help. It’s common to think your partner should ‘just understand’ what you are going through. But they may be struggling too. Your personality might have changed. When I was caring for my mum, I know I became much more serious, more intense and less inclined to want to go out and have fun. I wasn’t great company. There were definitely phases where my relationship with my partner took a back seat – it wasn’t intentional on my part. Sometimes it was just inevitable in order to make sure mum was OK.
Before you speak to your partner, think about what support you need. What would make your life slightly easier as a carer? Is it practical support? If so, what kind of practical support? Do you need your partner to visit the person when you are at work? Do you need them to occasionally help by taking the person to appointments? Can they collect medication for the person to save you a trip? Do you need them to sit with the person while you clean their house or go out and do some shopping?
Have a careful think about the support you need and discuss it calmly with your partner. Don’t be confrontational. Explain that you are feeling the pressure and tell them what you need from them, explaining that it would make a big difference to you on a practical and emotional level.
It’s also worth considering how much your partner understands about dementia. Do they realise it can affect a person’s moods and behaviour? The more they understand about the condition they more they will realise how much it is affecting you as a carer. If you had a difficult relationship with your parent when you were young, let your partner know. It’s important they understand the emotional trauma you are experiencing, as well as the practical issues you are facing.
Encourage them to visit websites offering advice and information on dementia and how it can affect those living with the condition. Knowledge is key. For example, when my mum had mood swings, my partner knew why they were occurring, but he also understood that they were affecting me emotionally.
Good communication between the two of you is vital. Tell your partner when you are feeling low and ask them for a hug. Make time for the two of you whenever you can. Long holidays may be out of the question, but mini-breaks or day trips out now and then will do you both the world of good. Even a few hours off one evening will make a difference.