Heather Brown is one of our Ambassadors. She currently cares for her dad who has Alzheimer’s and she also cared for her husband who had vascular dementia.
Because of her experience with her husband, Heather set up a dementia café in her village which has been running weekly for the past four years.
As the weeks roll, the confines of self-isolation and social distancing are felt more and more keenly.
For those of us at home with a loved one with dementia, keeping our spirits up and finding enough to keep us occupied becomes more challenging. Although recent news is a bit more positive and there may be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
What can we do to help ourselves? Here are some things to consider; bearing in mind that we are all different. Some of us get more anxious than others, and some of us have shorter tempers. We need to recognise what our triggers are and what helps us to feel calm.
I usually have a daily paper, but they are so full of the negatives of the current situation that they do nothing to help my wellbeing, so I often choose not to have one. I also only watch the news occasionally. Whatever is going on in the world is going to happen whether I know about it or not. It really makes a difference to how I feel.
The temptation, while we are confined to homes, is not to make as much effort with how we look. – I have neighbours and friends who are growing beards for the duration, men that is! Whilst that is ok, it is important that we continue to follow our regular morning routine and get dressed rather than slop about in pyjamas or scruffy joggers. What we wear has a big impact on how we feel, and it is more important now that we do all we can to make ourselves feel good. So, put on something that makes you feel good.
The same is true of housework, it is easy not to bother, after all, no one is going to visit, and so who cares if two days’ washing up is still in the sink? But yes, it does matter very much. Because it impacts on how we feel. We all feel much more content sitting down in a clean and tidy space rather than having to keep looking at the carpet and thinking it could do with the hoover over it. Anyway, housework burns calories so you are getting some exercise and you can reward yourself with an extra biscuit, or bar of chocolate with your tea break.
There is lots of helpful advice posted online by different charities and government gurus telling us what we can do to keep ourselves active and keep our loved ones occupied. But I know that for those of us who have a loved one who no longer has the ability to help with a jigsaw or find enough interest to help bake a cake, this advice only helps to make you feel more fed up and isolated than you already were. So, if you don’t think it is going to be relevant, don’t read it.
As carers, we have to find ways to build our own resilience, to do this we have to try to get in the habit of looking at the positives.
• Instead of feeling trapped in the house, think of it as a safe space.
• Keeping in touch with people is important. Use your phone and don’t wait for people to phone you. How often do you imagine two friends or family members are both sat waiting for the other to ring them? Do it. I am sure they will be pleased you rang.
• The person you care for may not be able to hold much of a conversation, but hearing the voice of a close family member will make them feel much brighter too. If you have the technology, get family and friends to send little video clips. Just a “hello, how are you doing” is often enough to raise a smile.
• People with dementia are often able to pick up on people’s body language and facial expressions. If you are stomping around the house and scowling, they may not understand why but it will make them feel unsafe and upset. Hard as it is, try to smile and talk in a gentle voice. I got quite good at just rambling on about what I was doing; what I needed to get from the shop; or what to have for tea. I don’t think he always understood what I was saying but he was comforted by my voice.
• If the sun is shining – good – we can get some fresh air and the vitamin D we are told is so good for us. Sitting in the sunshine is proven to raise our spirits and make us feel better.
• What if it’s raining? Good! The plants need the rain, as do the crops and it also means that means we can get on with the things we need to do in the house!
• Treat yourself, it doesn’t have to be expensive: a bar of chocolate, a bunch of flowers, some nice shower gel, or a magazine you enjoy. All guaranteed to lift our spirits.
• Try smiling – I have just read an article that says that if you give a big cheesy grin when you are feeling low or in a bad mood, it can actually help lift your mood. – Try it, you have nothing to lose and I can guarantee that it does work.
I know that some days none of this will work because we just can’t help feeling helpless or hopeless; mourn the happier life we had; or wish things were different. That is ok – it is sometimes ok not to feel ok. Sometimes, having a good cry and getting it out of your system can prove some relief. It is very important, if you are constantly in a low mood and cannot find anything to be happy about, that you to tell someone, such as a family member or speak to your GP. Being a carer is tough; admitting you need help is not a sign of failure. It is a brave thing to do, and the first step to helping you cope better.
‘Ask for help, not because you are weak, But because you want to remain strong.’
‘Rest and self-care are important – you cannot serve from an empty vessel.’
And most of all, remember you are doing the best you can for the person you care for, and your best is good enough.