Welcome to another Wellness Wednesday!
Caring for a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia can be a labour of love, and although it may feel instinctual to help, it can be extremely challenging. It’s essential to remember that to effectively care for someone, you also have to take care of yourself.
In this blog, we’ll delve into the ways you can nurture and boost not only your own wellbeing, but also enhance the quality of life of the person you are caring for. By embracing these natural and holistic practices, you may be able to create a more harmonious balance in your caregiving journey.
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term for several debilitating diseases and injuries that cause damage and deterioration to the brain, typically affecting older adults. Dementia causes a negative decline in memory, attention, communication, and thinking patterns like reasoning, judgement and problem-solving.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which is caused by an excessive build-up of proteins in the brain. This abnormal build up gradually hinders the brain’s ability to send messages and signals, and the first area usually affected is the brain’s memory centre.
What are the symptoms of dementia?
The early signs and symptoms of dementia include:
- Losing track of time
- Forgetting things or recent events
- Being confused or experiencing difficulty with familiar tasks
- Losing or misplacing things
- Getting lost in familiar places
- Trouble following conversations or finding the right words
Is there a cure for dementia?
No, currently there is no cure for dementia, but there are a number of treatments and medications that can be prescribed to help manage its symptoms.
In the UK, there are four licensed prescribed medications that can be prescribed to temporarily help a person with their thinking and memory. These are rivastigmine, memantine, galantamine and donepezil.
In certain circumstances, those whose dementia symptoms are unable to be successfully treated, relieved, or managed with these licensed medicines, may be eligible for unlicensed medicinal treatments, like medical cannabis.
Caring for carers: Natural ways to boost wellness
Typically, dementia runs in the family, and so, those with a family history of the disease are often prepared to one day take care of a loved one living with dementia. But, this doesn’t mean it is easy.
We know that time is of the essence, and typically carers have a packed schedule as it is. So, adding in lots of additional tasks or activities with the intent of de-stressing, may actually cause more stress, and so it's important to prioritise, and make sensible choices.
But, there are a number of natural practices that you can incorporate into your routine that may keep you from feeling overwhelmed or run down when caring for a loved one.
Simple lifestyle changes
Some natural changes can be made to tasks you already complete on a daily basis, costing you no extra time at all. For example, keeping a balanced, healthy diet, and staying away from added sugars will help to sustain your body well, and help you stay energised and focused throughout the day.
Other natural methods include cycling or walking to places like the pharmacy or the corner shop instead of driving, especially if it's a short trip. When we exercise, even a little, we produce higher levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which can improve our mood, attention-span and general wellbeing.
Practising self-care is always paramount, but, even more so for carers. When you become a caregiver, sometimes it can feel as though your identity has been altered, or you may feel as though it's hard to be defined as anything other than a caregiver. But remember, your needs and wellbeing is just as important as the person you care for.
Try to take some time for yourself each day, to focus on your own wellness. Perhaps take a bubble bath or start a new book, or why not try to meditate or practise yoga - whatever makes you feel most zen. These practices, and others like reducing blue light exposure, will also hopefully benefit your sleep, which can reduce feelings of stress and fatigue throughout the day.
Staying organised and planning out your week effectively can help stop you from feeling overwhelmed and snowed under - especially when you have a lot of commitments, or tasks to complete.
Keeping a journal or a to-do list will not only help you to schedule things in an order of priority, but also help you see in physical form just how much you complete in seven days. This can boost morale and give you a sense of accomplishment, but can also give you an accurate idea of how to balance tasks in the future to best save your time and energy.
Better together: Natural benefits for mutual wellbeing
There are also a number of natural or holistic activities that you can do with the person you care for, that will not only benefit your wellbeing and ability to care for another, but also benefit your loved one's quality of life.
Connect with nature
Keeping the brain stimulated can strengthen neural pathways, and so, taking a stroll through the village taking in the sights, sounds, and smells can be of great benefit, to both you, and your loved one with dementia.
Instinctually, nature calms our stress levels and feelings of anxiety. Research also shows that outdoor activities and connecting with natural environments can slow the progression of dementia symptoms.
‘Happy hormones’ like endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine are all known to be released when we connect with nature, which reduces feelings of anxiety and depression, and can boost morale, happiness and overall mood.
Rediscover old hobbies
Taking part in hobbies that they used to enjoy can greatly benefit a person with dementia, both physically and emotionally. Fine motor skills can be improved by certain activities like sewing, knitting, or woodworking, while more physical tasks like dancing or gardening can improve joint, muscle, and lung function.
Doing these activities together will promote mutual wellbeing, and help you to form new, positive memories with your loved one while reminiscing about old ones. Perhaps try cooking an old family recipe together; it's practical, it's fun, and it boosts cognitive function.
The importance of mental health
Taking care of another person, especially a person living with dementia, comes with a lot of pressure, and it's completely understandable to struggle with your mental health during this time. But remember, it’s important to share how you feel, and take time to look after yourself.
Mental health help
If you continuously feel low, tired, disinterested and empty or numb, you may be suffering from depression. The symptoms of depression like hopelessness, feeling devoid of joy or happiness, or overwhelmed with sadness and grief, can last for weeks, months, and even years.
There are a number of prescription medications, different talking therapy options and holistic practices that are designed to treat the symptoms of depression, so consider speaking to your GP for further information about these treatments.
If you have already been diagnosed with anxiety or depression and your prescribed medications are not helping to manage your symptoms due to the added pressures of being a carer, express this to your GP. It is important that your needs are met, whether this means trying other conventional medicines like antidepressants, or exploring alternative treatment plans like medical cannabis.
To best take care of your own mental health, wellness, and wellbeing, having a support system for yourself in place is imperative. Come up with a schedule or routine with other family members, friends, or support staff to ensure there is always enough support, time, and patience for the person you love with dementia, but also for yourself.
Remember, it takes a village! Research the help that you may be eligible for, explore the option of respite care, or getting a domestic carer to assist you and your loved one further. Perhaps participate in activities at your local community hall, or find out if there are any organisations or charities that have support groups you could join through your local council.
For further support:
Take part in Race Against Dementia
Scottish Formula One legend Sir Jackie Stewart OBE, set up the Race Against Dementia Charity one year after his wife, Helen, was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, and dedicated her birthday, the 21st of January, as Race Against Dementia Day.
Although raising awareness for research into the disease is important all year round, on Race Against Dementia Day (RADD) an extra fundraising effort is made to help further scientific exploration and investigation into this devastating and debilitating condition. To take part in RADD, or for further information about how you can donate to the cause, check out their website here.