Carers: looking after yourself

3. Looking after yourself

However caring makes you feel, it is important that you take the time to look after yourself. This will benefit you and the person you care for.

Your health and wellbeing

Caring can have a big impact on your mental and physical health and wellbeing. It is important to look after yourself well so that you can continue to care for the person with dementia.

  • Try to eat a well-balanced diet, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. A healthy diet will be beneficial for the person you care for too.
  • Taking regular exercise is good for your health – both physical and mental. You could try going for a walk or taking up an exercise class, or doing a crossword for example. Whatever you choose should be fun and something that you want to do.
  • Spending time enjoying your hobbies and interests is good for your mental and physical health.
  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleep is very important as it helps the brain and body recover from fatigue. It can be difficult if the person you care for has disturbed nights. You may find it easier to sleep when the person you care for is sleeping, and may be able to take advantage of daytime naps. If you are unable to get enough sleep, talk to your GP. They may be able to suggest services or techniques that can help.
  • If you have a physical disability or a sensory impairment, these will affect your caring role. It is important to make sure you are getting all the support you are entitled to. Speak to your GP or social services department.
  • If you have to help the person you care for to move around, be careful of your back. Speak to your GP for advice. They may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist. Some local carers’ organisations provide training sessions on moving and handling. Contact your local carers’ organisation, GP or social services to find out what is available in your area.
  • See your GP on a regular basis to check up on your health. You may also want to be put on the Carers’ Register. This is a list of patients who are carers – which GPs have been asked to keep – to help support them and the people they care for. Speak to your GP for more information or to register.
  • If you are struggling to cope or feeling depressed, anxious or stressed, talk to your GP. There is help available, such as counselling or extra support services. These problems are easier to manage if you do something about them at an early stage.
  • Consider using technology to help you in your caring role. This could include using the internet to help with online banking to pay bills, or shopping online to buy groceries. You may also want to think about electronic devices, known as ‘assistive technology’, such as gas monitors or locator devices. For more information see our page: Assistive technology – devices to help with everyday living.

Taking a break

It can be difficult to find time for yourself when you are caring for a person with dementia. You may feel guilty about wanting time alone, but it is important for your own wellbeing. When you do manage to get time to yourself, you may want to use it to catch up with other tasks such as housework or managing finances. However, taking breaks and continuing to do things that you enjoy can help you manage your caring role. This could include having some ‘time out’ during the day to do a crossword or go for a coffee.

Many people find that taking the time to pursue things they enjoy helps them with their caring role. By taking regular breaks you may find yourself better able to support yourself and the person you care for. Time apart can also be good for both of you and can make you both feel better.

You don’t have to take long breaks from caring, but a short time to enjoy yourself could make a lot of difference. Try to make time for something you enjoy every day, whether it is on your own or with the person you care for. By having a break, the person with dementia may also get to experience new things and have a change from their routine. Types of break might include:

  • taking the time to sit down and have a cup of tea, read the paper, listen to music, or go for a walk
  • going out for a coffee or drink
  • meeting a friend or going shopping
  • pursuing interests, hobbies and activities that you find enjoyable
  • having a short holiday, whether it is a few days or a week.

Some of these activities may help you feel less isolated as well.

You may be able to take a break if someone you know, such as a friend or family member, can spend a few hours with the person you care for. If not, your local authority may be able to help. Alternatively you may have to find a local organisation or charity who offer this service. Providing care so that you can take a break is called ‘respite care’, or sometimes ‘replacement care’. It could be for an hour or two, or for days or weeks.

A useful starting point may be your local Alzheimer’s Society branch, Age UK or council social services department. They can tell you what is available in your area and how you can access it. You may find that you have to be persistent and push to get the help you need. This can be frustrating and you may feel you don’t have the energy, but it is important to carry on and get the support you need.

For more information see our pages: Replacement care (respite care) in England,  Respite care in Wales, or Respite care in Northern Ireland.