Becoming a carer: How to look after yourself and your loved one after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Looking after someone with Alzheimer’s is a full-time job, and it’s not always an easy one. It’s important to know what’s in-store and what support is available, so you can provide the best care possible for your loved one.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, affecting 60-80% of people. The disease affects someone’s memory, thinking and behaviour and will eventually grow severe enough to interfere with their everyday tasks and activities. There is currently no cure but treatment and support can help manage symptoms and improve someone’s quality of  life.

Becoming a carer for a person with dementia can be challenging. As a carer, you will need to confront difficult emotions and push past them. It’s a 24/7 job that will require a lot of your time and attention, so it’s important to know the support on offer for yourself, your family and the person you’re looking after. 

Caring for a person living with Alzheimer’s

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s might mean stepping into a new and strange role. Your relationship with the affected individual will look different, but this isn’t necessarily bad. At the end of the day, you will always be their friend, daughter, son, brother, sister or family member, but you will now also be their carer. 

Whilst an adjustment, you will find a lot of joy and fulfilment from looking after a person with dementia. It’s important to speak honestly about how you both feel so you can understand one another and connect. Find things you both enjoy, like gardening, crafts, board games and films, to help you bridge the gap and to make each day slightly easier. 

It’s also important to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t, as this helps them to preserve some sense of independence and stops frustration from building between you. It can be hard to watch someone you love go through Alzheimer’s, but it’s important to remain patient and understanding; getting upset will only upset them. 

The Alzheimer’s Association has lots of resources and advice available to help you to support and care for someone with dementia.

Caring as Alzheimer’s progresses

Looking after someone with Alzheimer’s can be demanding, and things will only get tougher as the disease progresses. It’s important to plan ahead and make difficult decisions now instead of rushing to do so later. 

Dementia UK has a helpful guide on deciding when to move someone into a care home and what the process will entail. The charity advocates for including your loved one in this process, as their opinion is vital. Whilst there will always be questions about the person’s mental capacity and ability to make such a decision, asking them earlier on will help them regain the control they are losing in other ways. 

If the person you are caring for is not quite ready to live in a home, consider respite care in the meantime. Respite care is an arrangement devised to offer rest and relief to unpaid carers responsible for someone full-time. It provides a temporary break from caregiving but ensures someone is looking after the person you care for. The time away allows you to look after yourself and your mental health so you can continue to provide high-quality care.

Revitalise offer subsidised holidays in purpose-built accommodation for disabled people and their carers so you can have a proper break too. Your council may also be able to help respite care, but you will need to take a carer’s assessment and have the person you’re looking after take a needs assessment.

Looking after yourself

Looking after yourself and your well-being when responsible for another is essential for providing high-quality care. Whilst you might be struck with guilt when taking some time to yourself, it’s important to remember you can’t be there for someone else if you’re struggling too.

Caring for someone with dementia is similar to putting your own oxygen mask on during a flight emergency and then helping someone else; looking after yourself first means you’ll be of more help to your loved one.

So, make sure not to ignore feelings of anxiety or depression and go for your regular check-ups, including those at the dentist or optician. Ensure you find the time to go for a walk and clear your head and also to do the things you love, whether that’s reading a book, doing a hobby or playing a sport. 

Alzheimer’s Society has a dementia support line (0333 150 3456) with advisers to listen to your worries and provide support and advice where possible. The organisation also has an online forum, Dementia Talking Point, where carers can speak to others caring for friends or family with Alzheimer’s. 

If you’re struggling with anxiety, stress or depression as a result of caring, you can speak to your GP, who may recommend counselling or support. In some cases, they may also prescribe medication if they believe it’s required.

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