Caring for Carers

Member article

By Jane Verity © Dementia Care International

Providing a caring, happy and fulfilling environment for a person with dementia can be both challenging and rewarding. It also requires energy and patience coupled with the forming of a supportive partnership between professional and family carers and the person with dementia.

It is almost impossible to rekindle the ‘spark of life’ in others if your own fire has gone out. Carers need to tend their own wellbeing to ensure the best quality of life for everyone involved.

Experience has shown that frustration and irritation are the major causes of burnout in carers. Professional carers are often more aware of how to avoid this happening and learn practical ways of maintaining their energy, enthusiasm and creativity.

Tips to Maintain Motivation

Accept the Changes
The difference between a carer who succeeds and is able to find renewed energy and purpose, and one who struggles, becomes frustrated, irritated and angry, is simply the ability to acknowledge and accept changes.

It is better for everyone involved if you can accept changes are taking place in the person with dementia. This does not mean thinking everything is hopeless and there is nothing you can do about, but it does involve accepting changes. This means letting go of the old relationship and focussing on looking at ways to enhance this new relationship and provide a fulfilling environment.

Old conflicts and the history of the relationship (good and bad) can sometimes stand in the way of accepting changes. Acknowledging these influences and allowing yourself to let go of them will enable you to move on and look for the opportunities that dementia offers so that you can create a rewarding ‘new’ relationship.

Relationship Ties
Develop a real understanding of the person with dementia’s needs, concerns and ways of communicating. As their individual worlds ‘shrink’, there are often fewer opportunities for them to feel in control, contribute, be heard and have their self-esteem boosted. Healthy relationships are built on understanding, love and patience. These qualities create situations and an environment where people with dementia can blossom. (Our audio program Build a Supportive Partnership provides many ideas)

Exercising patience means allowing time for quality interactions. This can be as simple as ensuring you find the time to sit and have a ‘cuppa’ and a chat with the person who has dementia. It means that you make sure you are totally focussed on the person, relaxed and free from distractions.

The secret to quality communication is to patiently embrace silence and savour it, for it is often in the silence that magic happens.

If the person is able to dress independently, allow the extra time to enable them do so and avoid the temptation of taking over  because it’s faster. Wherever you can, allow the time and opportunity for them to make choices for themselves. (People with dementia can do so if the options are presented correctly.) All it takes is a little patience and understanding to facilitate choice.

Quality interactions happen when you show real respect and love. People with dementia have an uncanny ability to know when sincerity is absent.

There’s something very special about dementia, if only we are prepared to be open to the opportunities it offers and look at it in a different way. We need to look beyond the symptoms into the soul of the person.

Step Into Their Shoes
Native Americans had a saying that ,’you cannot know a person until you have walked two moons in their moccasins.’  Nowhere is this more apt than in understanding the person with dementia. Frustration comes from seeing situations only from our point of view because  we are ‘blinkered’ by our own expectations and experiences. When the person with dementia does not react as we expect, we feel that they have let us down or are trying to make our lives difficult. When we really understand where they are coming from, it changes our focus, expectations and perceptions.

For example, when a person with dementia says something which is ‘untrue’ in our reality, it is easy to say they are lying and become irritated and frustrated. If you ‘step into their shoes’, you can understand that as they begin to feel control slipping away they fight hard. As a result they make up little ‘stories’ to fill in the memory gap and to maintain the façade of control and normality.
There are times when all the wisdom, understanding, patience and love in the world are not enough. That’s when we need to recognise it’s necessary to take time out.

Recharge Your Batteries
Spending quality time out enables you to recharge your batteries and refresh your creative energy. While it may sound simple enough, sometimes it is difficult to make the most of breaks. So how do you ‘rekindle your own spark’?

1. The first step is to give yourself permission to put yourself first. Only then can you take full advantage of the time you have off so you will return full of zest with more to give the person you are supporting. Spending time feeling guilty is not helpful to anyone. Instead, think of your time out as a positive investment in your relationship.

2. Visualise how your time off will be spent. Think about your time, what you will do, and how it will make you feel. Make sure you  visualise the things that will give you joy.

3. At the start of your time off, do something that stimulates the senses and reinvigorates your spirit.This could be putting on your favourite music, singing loudly and dancing around the room. This will put you in a frame of mind that will enable you to maximise the benefits of the activities you’ve planned for the rest of your timeout.

Supporting people with dementia is both a challenge and a delight. To ensure real quality of life for both you and those in your care, it is vitally important to maintain your own “spark of life”.

Relevant Resources:

5 Universal Emotional Needs – A3 poster – Visit our Product Page