Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015
Caring full time for a relative who is chronically or terminally ill, disabled or suffering from dementia is physically and mentally exhausting. Not only can the caregiver experience effects on their own physical health such as back pain, low resistance to illness and tiredness, they will often suffer from anxiety and depression.
There may be a feeling of grief at witnessing the decline of a loved one and the loss of who they once were. There will be sadness at the realisation that long held hopes and plans for the future will not come to fruition. And there will almost certainly be guilt when the carer longs for time away or becomes irritated at the person they are caring for.
But it’s far too easy for you, the carer to forget your own needs, and to feel as if you should be able to manage on your own. However, by accepting that it will be beneficial to bring in external help, you will actually be in a position to cope for longer, rather than burn out. Your relationship with your loved one will almost certainly improve, and help them retain some dignity and independence. This is particularly important when caring for a spouse.
Some situations may benefit from live-in assistance, in which case the spouse/child/parent of the ill person can care in tandem with the support, whilst allowing for rest, recuperation and time and energy for other commitments. This will inevitably lead to a decrease in levels of stress which is very important in helping to maintain a good atmosphere in the house. People with dementia are particularly sensitive to the emotional state of the people around them.
If you feel you can’t bring in full time care for personal or financial reasons, look at other options. Perhaps someone coming in to cover nights will mean you face daytime caring feeling refreshed. Even support in the mornings/afternoons, at weekends or on just one day a week could make the difference between coping and not coping.
There is often the fear that the person you are caring for will become distressed about new people coming into the home. However, with the right person, they will almost always come to terms with the idea. It’s important to keep reminding yourself that this external help will improve the situation and it will mean the dynamics of your old relationship can resurface, rather than just being about a patient/carer role.
If you’re thinking about employing help, but have confused emotions around it, it’s important that you are able to talk through your feelings with a friend, relative or counsellor. Acknowledge that it’s perfectly acceptable for you to feel low, frustrated, guilty and even angry at times. Think about whether you are setting yourself unrealistic goals and expectations about how much you can do on your own. Remember that not only is it OK for you to have time to relax, pursue hobbies and interests, spend time with other family members and socialise with friends, it’s vital.
Accepting that you may need support is the first difficult step to take. Talking things through with an expert such as Julia Harris will enable you to identify the best way forward and what care package will work best for you.
MBACP Registered and Accredited