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4.5 Make time for your own health

If your overall health is good, brain health will benefit

Dementia is a long-lasting disease. If you are the person providing the main support you may be providing assistance for many years. It can be easy to care for others and forget to care for ourselves.  

In addition to supporting the person with dementia, it is equally important to make time for your own health too. If you are making a ‘check-up’ for the person with dementia, consider booking your own check-up to make sure that you are in good health. 

It can be tiring to care for another person. Exhaustion, or what can be called ‘burn out’ is the sense of fatigue, frequently being overwhelmed, and losing interest in things you previously enjoyed. 

The good thing is that burn out can be prevented by taking regular breaks from supporting or caring for someone. Prioritising these breaks can ‘recharge your batteries’.

Two care partners told us about their experiences: 

Alicia told us how she felt it was easy to be wise in hindsight. She explained,

“I thought I could manage everything for Fernando after he was diagnosed with dementia. Our kids are all busy with their families and I didn’t want to bother them. Eventually I think they gave up asking what they could do because I always said, ‘we are ok for now’. Several years ago Fernando became severely constipated and hospitalised. I had no idea how exhausted I was. The staff took one look at me, and said he had to go to a nursing home. He wasn’t that bad and his confusion got a bit better once the constipation was fixed. It was me… I had nothing left. I feel guilty and I also feel that if I had looked after myself better, Fernando might still be at home with me.”

Jeanette’s experience was different:

‘I didn’t see the need for James (our son) to come and take Rex out every Saturday. James does landscaping and other odd jobs, and he would take Rex to the hardware while he got his supplies. They spent hours there. James said he liked spending time with his Dad, but his aim to make sure I took a break every week. When James found out I was catching up on washing and housework, he sent his partner Alicia over to ‘babysit’ me and ensure I did something I liked! Sometimes we watched an (uninterrupted) movie together and I enjoyed talking about the movie with her afterwards. Eventually I grew to really value that scheduled time off. Rex now goes to a day centre as well. It sounds funny, but I think the practice of learning how to take time out has kept me going over the past five years. Knowing I have that break coming up is a godsend.”

Look after yourself

The key message is to look after yourself. 

You can read more about care partner burn out and what to do about it, and watch the CBC documentary, The Caregiver’s Club.

You are not alone as a care partner. Staying connected with other care partners is a way to learn, share, and socialize. Care partner support groups may be in person or online. Here are a few resources to explore: 

Book regular check-ups

  • Make sure that you are attending regular check-ups with your doctor to stay in good health. 

Look after yourself

  • Set realistic expectations for how much support you can give to the person with dementia. Take regular breaks, and ask others to help when you need it.