How to Deal with Depression as a Dementia Carer
Back in 2014, a study reported that 4 in 10 people caring for Dementia patients suffer from Depression.
It’s not difficult to imagine why.
The emotional and physical strength needed to care for a loved one who is no longer able to care for themselves can be immense. In addition, mental health services in the UK have been increasingly under the spotlight recently, and with good reason.
Waiting lists for patients to start receiving mental health care have grown as long as 4 months in some areas. For someone experiencing even mild to moderate depression, this delay in getting the right care can have devastating consequences.
With this in mind, here is some actionable advice for carers who are experiencing prolonged low mood and stress as a result of their responsibilities.
Please don’t hesitate to talk to your GP in the first instance if you suspect you are experiencing Depression, but do read on for tips and advice with how to deal with Depression as a Dementia carer.
Know also, that you can contact Samaritans at any time. Lines are open for free support in a crisis 24 hours a day, and the number is 116 123.
How to Deal with Depression as a Dementia Carer
We’ll cover the following areas:
Getting support for your patient
Getting support for yourself
Did you know that Depression can manifest in a whole lot of different ways, with both physical and mentally experienced symptoms?
Sometimes the biggest thing you have to do when treating your own mental health problems is to recognise that they are there, figure out what effect it is having on you, and then work to relieve those symptoms.
Here is a list of potential symptoms and resultant behaviours of Depression. These have been copied from Mind Charity’s excellent support document on dealing with Depression:
- down, upset or tearful
- restless, agitated or irritable
- guilty, worthless and down on yourself
- empty and numb
- isolated and unable to relate to other people
- finding no pleasure in life or things you usually enjoy
- a sense of unreality
- no self-confidence or self-esteem
- hopeless and despairing
- avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy
- self-harming or suicidal behaviour
- finding it difficult to speak or think clearly
- losing interest in sex
- difficulty in remembering or concentrating on things
- using more tobacco, alcohol or other drugs than usual
- difficulty sleeping, or sleeping too much
- feeling tired all the time
- no appetite and losing weight, or eating too much and gaining weight
- physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause
- moving very slowly, or being restless and agitated
Phew! No wonder things get a whole lot more challenging to deal with when your mental health is struggling.
Many people don’t realise the extent that Depression can affect you, even the ones who are experiencing it. Don’t be tempted to ‘soldier on’ without help if you suspect you are having difficulty.
If you are having problems, talk to your GP and get yourself on the waiting list for talking therapies, or privately arrange to see a qualified counsellor, if you are able to afford it.
Here is a list of counsellors who are registered with the British Association of Counselling and Therapy.
Already taken those steps?
Well done, you.
Now, let’s look at all the ways you can (and must) look after yourself, even as you are taking care of other people, too.
If you are living with the person you are caring for, then it can feel impossible to prioritise your own self-care. Cognitive decline can affect everything from sleeping to eating and basic hygiene, so a carer might be dealing with a whole spectrum of issues experienced by the person in their care, and unable to confidently ‘schedule’ me-time.
But self-care isn’t all bubble baths, it’s the basics.
Are you getting the time to eat well, exercise, sleep, keep up with other responsibilities, your own finances and health?
If not – it is not an admission of defeat. It is time to reach out for support. This might mean family members, healthcare professionals, friends or other carers. It can be really tempting to resign yourself to no longer having time for dealing with your own basic needs, but this is a very short-term solution.
No one can, or should be expected to, sacrifice all of their own well-being, even for a very sick relative.
It’s like what they say in airplane safety briefings – put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
It’s not indulgent or weak to ask for help, and you will be so much more able to support your patient if you are prioritising your own needs, too. Next, we’ll look into some modern ways of treating cognitive decline and getting help for your patient to take the pressure off of you.
Getting Support for Your Patient
Alzheimer’s and Dementia are complicated diseases, and whilst we may never have one, single, miracle cure; we have seen a lot of success with taking a multi-step approach to treatment.
The Bredesen Protocol is an example of a multi-step approach. There can be huge variety of symptoms and severity of illness, so we start with testing to understand the cause.
Causes could be:
- inflammation somewhere in the body
- hormone imbalance
- shortage of certain nutrients
- build up of toxins
- or often a combination of several of the above.
In the past, medical research has mistaken a symptom of cognitive decline – plaques and tangles in the brain – with the cause.
We still use scan evidence of plaques and tangles as a way of diagnosing cognitive decline, but the presence of these abnormalities in the brain is actually due to one of the causes we have listed above. We aren’t looking for a cure for plaques and tangles, per se, but we are looking for ways of treating all of the things which cause them to appear, and indicate that the brain is going through decline.
Still with us?
This means that testing should be very detailed in order to establish exactly what is happening in the body, as a whole. Then, a tailored programme can be established to treat the particular imbalances which are leading to cognitive decline.
Treatment using the Bredesen Protocol had a 90% success rate with improving symptoms in respondents in initial testing, and if you’re in the UK and want to enquire with our Edinburgh-based clinic for testing and treatment, then click here.
Our aim is always to help a person experiencing cognitive decline to regain some control and stability with their condition.
Whichever route you decide to go down for getting support for your patient, make sure that you take some time for yourself, too.
As a carer, your number one priority is almost always your patient, but if you are in a position where you have power of attorney, or you are responsible for making a lot of decisions for that person, then it is easy to get overwhelmed.
To conclude, here are a few more practical ways to help you deal with depression as a Dementia carer.
Getting Support For Yourself
Unfortunately, as we have already mentioned, Mental Health services in the UK are under quite a lot of pressure at the moment, so you may be faced with a waiting list once you see your GP. Here are some extra things that you can do to try and take care of yourself if you’re experiencing Depression as a Dementia carer:
We know it can get really, really hard if you’re already exhausted, but a jog, brisk walk or short gym session can make a huge difference to your mood. If you can’t leave your patient, look up yoga or fitness apps or videos and challenge yourself to do just 5 minutes at home. You can gradually build up the time if you feel up to it!
It’s a simple one – but it’s incredible how easy it is to forget to drink water when you’re busy or stressed. If you frequently forget, get a bottle and keep it in the fridge. Make sure you drink and refill as necessary, and aim to drink 2l of water per day.
Keep up with Your Own Medication
If you are prescribed anti-depressants, you must try to take them according to instructions from your GP. Many of these kinds of medications cause withdrawal symptoms which can be even worse than the symptoms of Depression. It can be easy to forget when you are managing someone else’s medication, too, but set alarms, write notes, or even ask someone else for help if you’re struggling with the medication schedules.
Join a Support Group
Caring can be incredibly lonely, especially when your patient is suffering with cognitive decline. Sometimes, you need to talk to someone who understands, but isn’t as close to the situation as you are. This might be through a support group, a trusted friend or relative or a counsellor if you can afford to pay for the sessions.
Read up on CBT
CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is one of the first tools used to treat Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and a whole host of mental health conditions. It is usually done with a counsellor or therapist, but you can use online courses and books and give yourself a head-start if you have a long wait to be seen. Here is a list of NHS-approved resources.
We know these might seem like very obvious solutions, but the nature of Depression causes people to experience a lot of difficulty taking care of themselves, let alone another person.
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