Dementia & Alzheimer's - a carer's guide
Updated: Jan 3
Healthline differentiates Dementia and Alzheimers in the following way: Dementia is an overall term used to describe symptoms that impact memory, performance of daily activities, and communication abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease gets worse with time and affects memory, language, and thought. Neither are considered a normal part of ageing.
Caring for someone with Dementia or Alzheimer's
There are many ways you can care for an individual; this is not limited to living with them and looking after them full time, but also just being in the life of someone going through these conditions such as a friend or relative.
Caring for someone whose memory is fading as well as experiencing possible personality changes can be difficult. You have to revaluate your relationship and figure out a new dynamic which can be challenging, stressful and upsetting for both parties.
Taking care of yourself will always make you better equipped for taking care of those around you – you can’t pour from your cup if your cup is empty. Taking care of yourself can include;
Mentally. Take some time out. Don’t feel guilty for taking a break from the situation and the caring role. You need time for your brain to process your thoughts and feelings. Take regular breaks where you can in order to reenergise.
Physically. Being physically active will make you happier and give you more energy. Exercise might seem like a struggle sometimes, but it will help you in the long run.
Financially. Don’t neglect your finances and make sure you seek help if things start getting out of hand. Money worries are a big stressor for people so keep on top of your finances to prevent sleepless nights.
Talk to someone. Whether this is a friend or family member or a trained professional like a counsellor, you can talk to someone to help vent your emotional stress or worry. There might not be anything on your mind but it can still be helpful to discuss the situation in a non-judgemental environment.
There’s no right or wrong way to support a person with Dementia and it’s important to learn how to cope with the rollercoaster of emotions that will come with this role. One way you can do this is by talking to a trained professional such as a counsellor about how this person’s illness impacts you.
How can counselling help?
Counselling may seem selfish; you aren’t the person with the illness. This isn’t at all true – caring about someone suffering with Dementia is arguably one of the hardest experiences someone can go through. Here are some ways we can help:
1. Talking therapy. Talking about the current situation may be all you need; a calming and friendly ear in a non-judgemental setting.
2. Coping methods: Let us help you by teaching you some coping methods for stress, depression and anxiety. We can do this using CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
3. Perspective change: We can help you look at the situation and your new relationship with a new perspective. Caring for someone with Dementia can be challenging and stressful but there are positives to be found. There is hope and enthusiasm to be had with this new role and we’ll help you see it.
4. Grief: We’re here for the long-term grief that people experience when faced with such a debilitating disease.
There are many stages of looking after or being involved with a person with Dementia that can have an impact on your life and wellbeing: From diagnosis, witnessing the progression of the condition, redefining relationships, financial stressors and job worries, considering residential care to loss and grief; this condition has a devastating ripple effect on the people around it.
However, as the Alzheimer’s Society says, ‘People can still live well with Dementia. Although there is no cure for dementia, scientists and researchers are working hard to find one. Until that day comes, support and treatments are available that can help with symptoms and managing daily life. These can allow people with dementia to lead active, purposeful lives and carry on doing the things that matter to them most.’
There are drugs available that may help with some types of dementia and stop symptoms progressing for a while. Other things that can help with symptoms of dementia include:
Cognitive stimulation, which might involve doing word puzzles or discussing current affairs.
Life story work, sharing memories and experiences with a carer or nurse to create a ‘life story book’.
Keeping as active as possible – physically, mentally and socially – which can boost memory and self-esteem and help avoid depression.
Music therapy – a lot of research is underway to understand the connection between the brain and music. Listening to favourite songs can bring back old memories and feelings. Many people with dementia are still able to enjoy music and to sing even when they start to lose their language abilities. While the search for a cure continues, we all must work together to support people affected by dementia today so they can live meaningful lives. Music is a wonderful way to do this.
Here are some useful places to look for help and advice on Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Remember, if you’re caring for someone with Dementia, help yourself to help them by reaching out for support.