Tips for Carers
Caring for an individual with Alzheimer’s can be rewarding but can also often be challenging, presenting a myriad of emotions and obstacles along the way. Unfortunately there is no rule book, however, there are so many things we can do to enhance the experience and to make it easier. Our experts at Re:Cognition Health understand these challenges and are passionate to share their knowledge. Below they have collated their top tips from hundreds of carers, who are living and have lived through this experience:
- Appoint a support crew – Being a sole carer is an enormous undertaking and if at all possible, find a way to share this task. Enlist the support of family, friends and neighbours to help share the care or lend a hand with errands. Compiling a weekly schedule with allocated tasks divided amongst your appointed support crew will provide structure and routine to the week, as well as alleviating some of the pressure. Always try to accept help when it is offered. Generally, friends and family do want to help, everyone knows that one day they may be facing the same or similar challenges.
- Knowledge is Power – There is an abundance of professional organisations providing advice and support for carers as well as individuals with a diagnosis –your local authority, Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, Dementia UK and Carers UK are just some of the organisations. Social media is also a great platform for connecting with like minded people in a similar situation. Also ask for their top tips and do your research on local support groups and available funding.
- Switch off when you need to – We all wish we had an easily activated “off button” and switching off is easier said than done! It’s important to remember that Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain which can sometimes cause sudden and unpredictable mood swings and outbursts. It is the disease talking, not the individual and it is key to remember that it is as frustrating for them as it is for you. Because they can’t change their behaviour, it’s important you learn to detach yourself from the situation or activate your “off switch”. Give them space and time to regain their calm. Never take anything personally and also, learn the art of deep breathing, which can be hugely beneficial.
- Exercise regularly – Exercise releases feel good, mood enhancing endorphins and is a wonderful activity to do with the individual you’re caring for. It will help clear the mind, give a fresh focus and help reduce symptoms of sundowning (when a person with Alzheimer’s can be susceptible to mood swings late afternoon or early evening when the sun goes down).
- Distract and deflect – It’s important not to talk about bereavements, even if they happened a very long time ago, they can be perceived as news to the person and trigger episodes of grief. When possible, change the subject when questioned about the whereabouts of a deceased person.
- Socialise – There are countless benefits to socialising with particular emphasis on improving mood and mental awareness. Encourage the person to get involved in activities or mix with others, mental stimulation can be hugely beneficial. It’s important to learn how to “read the room” and back away if they don’t want to do something and understand when they need a rest of change of activity. Remember that it’s also important for you to socialise. Befriending other carers will provide a great opportunity to share advice and experiences – the good and the challenging. It’s also important that you continue your own social life outside of your role as a carer, maintaining your friendships and hobbies.
- Establish a routine – Routines provide order and structure which can be very reassuring to those living with Alzheimer’s. Creating a weekly timetable is a great way to keep organised and for them to maintain a sense of control. If you are planning outings or day trips, try to choose places together that are of significance or familiar, where they feel comfortable or have happy memories. Also, it’s important not to make outings too long which can be very tiring and overwhelming.
- Be in a good place when you visit –People with Alzheimer’s will remember how their carer makes them feel, so maintaining a positive, upbeat and consistent demeanour is vital. If you are tired, emotional or run down, rescheduling may be advisable (unless you can turn on the smile!)
- Prepare for the future – The time will come when the person with Alzheimer’s can no longer be left alone so it’s advisable to start planning, preparing and thinking about the future, as soon as possible. Make sure paperwork is in order, organise Lasting Power of Attorneys for Property & Finance and Health & Welfare, notify the DVLA of the person’s diagnosis and locate important documents you may need to manage in future such as bank statements and bills.
- Look after yourself – A healthy carer makes a good carer; you can’t look after someone else if you don’t take care of yourself. Take time out, have regular daily breaks and short holidays away when you need them.