Home Mental Health & Well-Being The Importance of Caring for Yourself While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss

The Importance of Caring for Yourself While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss

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Memory loss is devastating for the person who is suffering from it. Not only do they struggle to recall their past but they also find it very difficult to navigate the present as their perceptions become faulty and difficult to trust. 

People who are in a position to help their friends or family members as they struggle with memory loss are doing a very kind thing by offering support. However, it’s equally important that they care for themselves.

The stress and burnout that can result from helping someone you care about deal with health challenges are very real and very corrosive. In this article, we take a look at the importance of caring for yourself while helping someone with memory loss. 

Does this sound like you?

There are several common qualities that many people assisting loved ones with memory loss share. Below, we examine what these traits are and how they can further complicate your emotional experience with the process. 

  • You have the time to provide care. Maybe you have a more flexible work arrangement than other friends or family members. Maybe you don’t, but you’ve figured out how to arrange your schedule so that you are in a position to administer care anyway. Either way, every time you aren’t helping your loved one, it feels like you are actively making the choice to leave them without care.
  • You don’t see an alternative. One of the pain points that keeps many people worried as they help a suffering loved one is that they simply don’t see an obvious alternative. When they aren’t available to offer support, they feel that the person they are caring for simply won’t receive help at all.
  • You don’t have a medical background. One of the most nefarious things about this situation is that you probably aren’t a licensed medical care provider. You get confused by the medical terms required by your arrangement. You do a lot of research but still feel overwhelmed. Moreover, you worry that, because you don’t know about medicine, you may one day make a mistake that causes your friend or family member harm.

These complaints, common though they are, can have a corrosive effect on the mental and emotional health of the person suffering from them. While it is natural to worry about someone you love who is suffering, you also need to meet your own needs. 

Finding a way forward

Self-care is a great buzzword, but this is a serious situation. You’ve already decided to see things through. You aren’t going to abandon the person you care about for an afternoon so you can go to a yoga class. What does that leave?

It is true that self-care isn’t always completely possible in situations where someone is the sole or primary caregiver. However, before you write off the recommendations that are to follow completely, ask yourself if there are more things you could be doing for yourself. 

Is there someone else willing to volunteer their time? Is the person you are caring for eligible to receive services of some kind? Are they independent enough to be by themselves for certain periods of time?

While you may feel selfish trying to take breaks, doing so will ultimately have a refreshing effect, making it easier to administer sustained high-quality care.

What is self-care?

Self-care is often mischaracterised in social media as self-indulgence. People imagine expensive candles or a day of retail therapy as forms of self-care. While these activities could form a small part of your personal wellness routine, true self-care has two consistent qualities:

  • It requires you to recognise your body’s needs and
  • Prioritize meeting them on a consistent basis.

This can admittedly get a little confusing because meeting your body’s needs can be subjective and up to interpretation. For example, if you are feeling too stressed to fall asleep at the end of the day spending fifteen minutes on YouTube might calm you down enough to get a decent rest.

Is that self-care?

Perhaps. It’s at least close enough. But true self-care is about building a sustainable routine designed to promote wellness. Screen-time activates the reward centers in your brain providing a short-term dopamine release. This can be calming but it also provides diminishing returns. 

You won’t always be able to decompress through scrolling. 

Good self-care allows you to explore techniques that can be consistently applied to promote wellness. 

These include:

  • Meditation. Just a few minutes of mindfulness activity that focuses on regulating your breathing can help naturally calm your body.
  • Healthy eating. A healthy diet is an important foundational self-care consideration. Often, people can improve the way they feel significantly just by making sure that they are getting proper nutrition.
  • Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins that produce a joy response in your brain. It also helps you maintain your health, regulate your weight, and even improve your sleep.
  • Sleep. Sleep is how your body recharges. When you aren’t getting enough of it, you may begin to experience heightened stress, anxiety, and even depression.

There are many ways to naturally create joy in your life through holistic means. In addition to the steps stated above, try to spend more time outside. Read a book, pet an animal. Focus on activities that naturally produce happiness in your brain through sustainable means. 

Why it matters

Self-care is not indulgent. It’s about creating circumstances within which you can thrive. That’s particularly important right now as you care for someone who needs you at your best. It’s very easy to feel selfish as you think about your own needs while taking care of someone who is suffering from memory loss.

But the truth is more complicated than that. You can’t do a good job taking care of someone else unless your own needs are being met. By prioritizing activities that ensure your own health, you also guarantee that you will have enough gas in the tank to take care of your loved one.

Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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