Looking after other people and catering to their needs is not an easy task. As a dementia caregiver, it is even more challenging. It requires a lot of physical, mental and emotional strength almost every day. Thus, it’s equally important to take good care of yourself as well.
Many a time, people tend to neglect their own care, health and well-being when they are caring for others. However, you must also look after yourself along with your patient because a loss of self-care can result in mental and physical stress and even disease.
Here are seven ways to stay healthy and stress-free as a dementia caregiver:
1. Regularly find time for yourself.
This is perhaps the most important and beneficial thing you can do for yourself when taking care of a patient with dementia. It is imperative for you to take some time off from your work and duty and spend it doing something you enjoy. This could be meeting friends over dinner or coffee, watching a movie, indulging in creative activities, getting a massage or something else.
To be able to take care of the patient, it is very important for you to be stress-free. Consistent stress or worry, sleeplessness and boredom can lead to depression and eventually disease. Therefore, give yourself a break regularly to stay healthy and happy.
2. Exercise regularly.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. Exercise has numerous health benefits, both mental and physical. Also, given the fact that being a dementia caregiver can be mentally and physically taxing, you need to relax those muscles on a regular basis.
Considering your caregiving schedule, you can always go for a brisk walk, a short jogging session or perhaps do a few sets of cardio whenever you get a chance. This will also prevent stress, fatigue and mental exhaustion which will help you stay active and physically fit over time.
3. See your doctor.
Being a caregiver, you definitely need to visit your doctor or physician regularly to keep your own health in check. Given the nature of your job, the chances of you experiencing stress, sleeplessness, exhaustion and frustration are very high. Any occurrence of these signs and symptoms should be taken seriously because they can take a toll on your mental and physical health.
If you are looking after someone in their late stages of dementia, you should also discuss with your doctor about the seasonal flu shot. Getting vaccinated will protect both you and the person you are caring for.
4. Establish healthy eating habits.
While you are at your job, you should try to fit in healthy eating patterns in your everyday routine to stay fit and in good shape. Choosing nutritious food packed with essential minerals and vitamins is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself to build resilience, stay healthy and continue caring for your patient.
You can follow a Mediterranean diet for instance, which mainly emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, dairy produce and a lot of healthy fats. Research has shown that a diet like this can reduce the risk of conditions like high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels. You could try new recipes and perhaps also get your patient to eat the same food too, so you both can stay healthy.
5. Ask for and accept help and support.
In times when caregiving seems more of a struggle, get help and support from your family and loved ones. You could also attend a dementia caregiving support group to get advice and suggestions on how to deal with things in a better way.
Recruit help if needed or ask a family member or friend for a hand; Someone could drive the patient to a doctor’s appointment, cook dinner or just spend time with them while you finish some chores of your own or take a nap.
6. Get enough sleep and rest.
Just like your patient, you also need to sleep well and follow a proper sleeping routine. To be up fresh and active every morning, and look after your patient well, you must be well-rested. This calls for a good night’s sleep, so you are better able to spend the whole day with your patient without feeling tired or exhausted.
If there are times you do feel tired or sleepy during the day, try to incorporate short breaks or resting periods to cover up for your lack of sleep or simply to give yourself an energy boost.
7. Maintain social relationships.
It is fairly common for caregivers to give up on their social life and become isolated. This can lead to detrimental effects on their mental health. For this reason, try to stay connected with your friends and family and catch up with them every once in a while.
If going out and socializing isn’t an option for you, ask people to drop by or perhaps make use of technology like Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp to stay connected. This will prove to be very helpful for your overall health.
Caregiving is certainly not an easy job and requires countless days and hours of effort on the caregiver’s part. If there are times when you are too stressed out and strained, you can go for a brain test or take an online dementia test just to be sure about your mental health. Regardless of that, you should take care of yourself and maintain healthy habits to ensure good mental and physical health.