Looking after an elderly person, especially one who may have health and/or mobility problems can be tiring and difficult at times. If that person also has dementia the task can be doubly hard. Those carers also need to take extra care of their own health in order to do their job properly and to the high standard expected. Once a carer becomes ill, either mentally or physically, it can be hard to recover so it is best for everyone if you can recognise the risk signs and act accordingly before illness strikes. Feeling stressed, tearful, tired and under the weather are all signs that you may need to take a break.
Look After Your Health and Wellbeing
Anyone who is stressed and over-tired, no matter how physically fit you may be, will eventually start to feel run down and ill. You must take steps to avoid this by observing a few common sense rules:
Get enough sleep. Sleep allows you to rest and recharge and helps maintain a healthy immune system, leaving you ready to tackle the day. Avoid coffee and alcohol late at night as these interfere with sleep patterns. A warm bath and a milky drink before bedtime can help you to relax into sleep. Rest during the day where you can if you can’t sleep at night. Sleeping in a dark, cool room, avoiding screens for two hours before turning off the lights can be beneficial in achieving a full, restful night’s sleep.
Regular exercise helps your muscle strength, blood pressure and heart rate. Stretching exercises and a daily walk are often all that’s needed but for something a little more lively try dancing to music for 30 minutes – this could benefit your patient too providing they have GP approval of course. If possible try to exercise outdoors each day, even for a short time, as contact with nature is good for mental, as well as physical wellbeing. Even if you struggle to motivate yourself to get moving, you may actually find that a little exercise makes you feel energised and ready to face the day ahead. Moving you body on a daily basis has significant long term health benefits and can even be enjoyable!
Watch your diet. Try to get your 5-a-day fruit and veg but treat yourself to a favourite food now and then. Although it is easy to reach for convenience foods when time is short and you are busy, choosing slow release energy foods such as wholegrains will keep you sustained throughout the day and help to reduce those energy slumps that sugary treats and refined carbohydrates can cause.
Maintain contact with friends, family and favourite pastimes and social activities for the sake of your mental wellbeing. Care work can be tiring and sometimes lonely. It is highly beneficial to have contact with other people every day, even if it just a phone call or text.
Get the Right Support
No matter how good and how dedicated you are to looking after your elderly patient you can’t do everything to a high standard without a good support network in place. Too many good carers struggle on by themselves until they start to become ill and this is no help to the person you look after.
When a live-in carer is part of a professional team you know you can always call on agency and health professionals when you need advice. If the elderly person’s family members or friends are in regular close contact don’t be afraid to ask them for help when it’s needed. They could help you by sometimes preparing meals, helping with household chores or accompanying the elderly person on a day out so that you can get things done at a more leisurely pace. If it is feasible or possible, consider having someone to stay overnight so that you can get a good night’s sleep.
You can also consider respite care services where these are available because it is important that you take regular breaks to rest and recharge now and again.
Take Care of Your Emotional Health
Caring for elderly people with life-limiting health conditions can take its toll. Remember that it’s normal to sometimes feel overwhelmed. If you find yourself becoming upset whilst trying to stay resilient, consider speaking to a professional counsellor for advice on how to manage your emotions. It can be detrimental to your health to bottle up these feelings, there is no shame in admitting that you are struggling and talking things through can enable you to cope better in the future and safeguard your mental wellbeing.