According to Carers Week, 6,000 people in the UK every day start looking after someone close to them, unpaid. The person they care for could have a disability, illness, dementia, mental health condition, or may need extra help as they grow older. Caring can be hugely rewarding, but it can also have an impact on all aspects of your life.
Dorothy Cash, Care Coordinator at Loveday & Co, London’s only private member’s club for seniors, gives us some of her top tips to help unpaid carers.
1. Establish a routine
Routine is important and a familiar environment will make the person feel secure. Creating a daily calendar and establishing set times for when the person wakes, showers, eats, rests and sleeps can help them feel more settled. Set goals for the day. It could be as simple as meeting a friend for a coffee. And do things together, whether it’s setting the table or helping with the washing, it’s important for people to maintain their independence.
2. Regular social interaction
Social interaction with others will make a difference to the person’s mood and mental awareness. Encourage them to get involved in activities or mix with others, but know when to back off if they don’t want to do something. Offer a range of social and stimulating activities such as visiting the shops, museums, gardening, memory games or even just reading the paper. Ensure that activities and hobbies the individual enjoyed in their past are included within their daily routine, alongside the introduction of new activities to further stimulate them. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t appear to enjoy the activity or if they aren’t in the right mood; don’t force the situation, just try again another time. And don’t forget to socialise yourself! Befriending other carers is an excellent opportunity to vent, share and support.
3. Communication is key
When speaking with a person who is living with dementia it’s important to speak at the same level as them. If they are sitting, sit next to them or kneel down so you can make eye contact. Don’t use long sentences or big words - short, non-complex sentences are easiest to process and understand.
4. Knowledge is power
Understand as much as possible about the history of the person you are looking after, particularly if they have dementia and can’t remember all the details. It’s good to know their likes and dislikes, things that they enjoy, hobbies and fond memories. Speak to relatives to find out more about them.
5. Be prepared to distract & deflect
Don’t challenge or contradict. Don’t talk about bereavements. Be prepared to repeat, repeat, repeat. Patience is a virtue. Failing that, leave the room.
6. Food Glorious Food
Make mealtimes a social occasion, not a chore. Prepare attractive looking (and smelling) food and serve smaller portions so they remain hot. To help individuals with dementia recognise food it’s best to use brightly coloured plates. Red is a particularly good colour as it also stimulates appetite.
7. Remain hydrated
It’s important that the person you care for remains hydrated. In addition to water, offer juice, squash, flavoured water, smoothies and hot drinks. Ice lollies are also a great option, or offer pieces of fruit such as melon or strawberries.
For those with dementia, ‘sundowning’, where people get more agitated and distressed towards the end of the day, is a common occurrence. Keep track of when this happens - it’s usually around the same time each day. Use distraction techniques to deflect the situation. Ask what the matter is and speak in short sentences. Perhaps take the person for a walk just before anxiety and distress starts to happen. Exercise may help prevent sundowning as a person’s mood can be boosted by the endorphins released when exercising.
Rest is very important as people with dementia can tire more easily. Build rest time into your daily schedule, don’t have too many activities planned each day, and ensure some quiet time in the lead up to bedtime.
10. Look after yourself
As a carer it’s important that you are at your best. Get enough sleep, have a good diet and keep yourself active. Do things that make you feel good, whether that’s going for a walk, exercising, reading a book or a spot of gardening. Take regular breaks - even short ones will help.
11. Keep up-to-date with paperwork
It can be boring but it’s important. Organise Lasting Power of Attorney while you still can. Notify the DVLA of the person’s diagnosis. Locate important documents you may need in the future such as bank statements, bills and medical records.
12. Small things can raise a smile
Find them and use them. Pet therapy can be effective, and babies and children can raise a smile too! Laughter doesn’t have to be a thing of the past.
13. You can’t do it all on your own
Don’t feel that you have to always do things on your own. Ask friends, family or neighbours to help. Speak to professional organisations such as your local authority, Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, Dementia UK or Carers UK. Or if possible give yourself a few days break.
The Loveday Day Club is an exclusive private members’ club experience with care for those that need it. They offer specially designed stimulating activities, fine dining and first-class hospitality in residences in Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill.