Self-care: is it selfish?

Caring for a person with dementia can be very rewarding, but it also brings many challenges. Coping with changes as dementia progresses can take its toll. You may find that most of your time is spent focusing on caring and keeping on top of responsibilities. 

caring for a person with dementia

It’s normal to experience resentment, guilt, isolation, stress and other difficult emotions. This doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person; it just means that you are human.

Making time for yourself may feel selfish, but it’s important to remember that your needs matter too. Looking after yourself, both physically and mentally, will mean that you’re better able to look after someone else. This can be anything from going for a walk, eating well, and revisiting a hobby or activity that you enjoy.

Online support for carers

On Talking Point, our online support community, there are forums for carers dealing with various stages of dementia. There is also a members’ only area for people to discuss particularly difficult feelings.

Here’s what some of our members have shared with the community about self-care:

‘If you can't recharge your batteries and do some things you enjoy, there is a real danger that you will become isolated, worn out and miserable.’

‘Dementia shouldn't mean that you are glued to your loved one 24/7, but it does mean that if you don't take care of you there is little chance you can take care of them.’

‘You should never refuse any offer of help, even if you don't think you want or need it.’

‘In a plane emergency we're always told to put our own air masks on first, then put on the ones of our dependants. If we can't breathe, we can't help them. Our natural instinct would be to help them first, but if we're not healthy we are of no use to the people we care for.’

It can be helpful to talk to other carers, to discuss your experiences and share practical tips. Sometimes, it helps to simply to have a place where you can let off steam after a tough day.

Not only can this alleviate feelings of guilt or stress, it can also help you to feel less alone in what you’re going through.

Unite against dementia

Join the conversation on Talking Point

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6 comments

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I think this is a topical subject that I/we as carers grapple with. In principle, I believe that self care is essential and it is not selfish to think and care about our needs and ourselves. The reality is, caring becomes a selfless occupation, however hard we try to 'get away' for an hour or two; half a day; respite, etc, because the needs and care of loved ones dominate our very being especially if we have been in the role for a good few years. I have tried, relaxation, coffee breaks with friends, long walks; keep fit, dancing, therapy, etc and whilst for that '2 hour slot', maybe it helps a little, by the time another 2 hours of travelling time is fitted in, it begins to get stressful again, and the initial appreciation of self indulgence gets lost. I don't really know how to get round it! Glad for any input or suggestions but I do believe that 'it can be helpful to talk to other carers, to discuss your experiences and share practical tips', at the least; AND to 'never refuse any offer of help, even if you don’t think you want or need it’, and it goes against the very grains of self pride and preservation.

HELLO IF YOU ARE NOT CAREFUL YOU WILL END UP FEELING "BURNT OUT".THIS IS HOW I FEEL. I HAVE BEEN CARING FOR MY MOTHER FOR 5 YEARS NOW AND HER DEMENTIA STARTED IN 2013.THE PROBLEM IS FINDING TIME TO ENJOY WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.AS THE ILLNESS GETS WORSE, THE DEMANDS ON YOU INCREASE AND YOU SOMEHOW HAVE TO ADAPT TO THIS AND COPE WITH THE EXTRA WORKLOAD. CONSEQUENTLY, THIS LEAVES YOU WITH LESS TIME AND YOU FEEL AS IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE OVERWHELMED BY COPING WITH THE DEMENTIA.I FEEL THAT YOU HAVE TO PUT THE NEEDS OF THE PERSON YOU ARE CARING FOR FIRST BECAUSE THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT.I THINK THAT YOU AND ME ARE IN A SITUATION WHERE YOU HAVE TO PUT YOUR OWN LIFE AND INTERESTS ON THE "BACK BURNER" AS THEY SAY. I FEEL SELFISH IF I TRY TO PUT MY OWN LIFE AND NEEDS FIRST.IT LIKE BEING ON A WHHEL THAT IS SPINNING EVER FASTER AND YOU ARE UNABLE TO GET OFF IT AND SLOW DOWN. GOOD LUCK AND BEST WISHES FOR THE FUTURE,COLIN

I'm struggling with this atm ....I know what I need to do (go to gym, walk in park, meet friends) but it's getting to the point that going out feels like a big deal.
Mum's dementia is changing...she keeps saving soiled tissues to show me. I cannot believe how much this is freaking me out. I'm a Nurse so not sqiumish.
I want to protect my 20 yrs old son and partner but I feel really sad and isolated. And heartbroken over my mum.

HELLO IT SOUNDS LIKE TO ME THAT YOU NEED SOME HELP OR YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN OR HEADING FOR WHAT IS CALLED "BURNT OUT". I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE EXPERIENCING AS I AM A FULL TIME CARER AND I FEEL THE SAME WAY AS YOU DO. AS THE ILLNESS GETS WORSE YOU HAVE TO ADAPT TO IT AND FIND A WAY TO COPE BUT I DO NOT KNOW HOW YOU DO THIS BECAUSE I NEED TO BUT I DONT KNOW HOW. I THINK THAT CARING FOR SOME ONE WITH DEMENTIA IS THE MOST STRESSFULL AND CHALLENGING SITUATIONS THAT YOU CAN EXPERIENCE IN THIS LIFE.BEST WISHES COLIN

My husband has just been diagnosed with early on set dementia. I have cared for him for 18 years after a brain haemorrhage and I don't know how I will cope with this on top. Feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Hi Carole, we’re very sorry to hear this. If you’d like to speak to a member of our Helpline team to see if they can offer any guidance or support, please ring 0300 222 11 22. You can find out more about the Helpline here: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/helpline. Thank you, we wish you and your husband all the best.

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