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4.6 Build emotional resilience

Build emotional resilience, be mentally and socially active to boost brain health.

There is a strong link between your mental health, your mood, and how well your brain is working. People with mental illness often have a chemical (neurotransmitters) imbalance in their brain. The brains of people with long-term mental illness show deterioration. People who have poor mental health often find it hard to think and score more poorly on cognitive tests.  

People with dementia are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, but there are therapies available. For more information read the page 2.6 Help for Depression and Anxiety

Emotional resilience describes a person’s ability to cope with and recover from difficult experiences. When faced with challenges in life or during the course of dementia, your emotional resilience determines how well you bounce back versus how much your mental health suffers. Being emotionally resilient doesn’t mean that you won’t feel upset from changes that happen because of your dementia. Rather, it means that you are still able to manage despite these difficulties.  

Myrna had never painted or written poetry before her diagnosis, but now she considers herself an artist and poet.

“It doesn’t matter to me if no one likes what I am doing, because I actually feel good about it, and I never had that before.”

While working with a group at the University of British Columbia, she was given permission to like what she was doing and to take time to enjoy her life. Read Myrna’s poetry here.

Keep doing the things that are important to you in life. See section 3.1 for a worksheet that will help you identify what is important to you in life along with helpful therapies and strategies. 

Some people find meaning by participating in research or working as a dementia advocate. 

Join a research study

Potential benefits of participating in research include:  

  • Access to experimental treatments or services which aren’t available elsewhere. 
  • Access to more information about dementia and therapy options.  
  • Helping to advance dementia research and therefore helping others with dementia.  

To sign up for research 

If you’re particularly interested in research, you can do more than just participate. This link details how you can become a research partner. 

Become a dementia advocate

Dementia advocates are people who represent and speak on behalf of others with dementia. Dementia advocates give their time in a variety of ways. They might: 

  • Share their views and experiences about dementia. 
  • Provide feedback on programs or policies that affect people with dementia. 
  • Speak publicly about their dementia or join a committee that represents the interests of people with dementia. 

You might be able to volunteer to become an advocate as part of your local healthcare service – make it known to a clinician or manager that you’re interested in helping to improve the service.  

You can also become involved in advocacy through Dementia Advocacy Canada and Dementia Alliance International

Practice self-care

Self-care means putting time and energy into looking after yourself. Looking after yourself might mean going on vacation or getting enough rest, getting your hair done, and dressing up, or doing things just ‘for yourself’. Self-care is an investment in your mental health and can help you to move forward with dementia.  

Here are some ways to practice self-care: 

Be kind to yourself

Don’t be too critical of yourself or your abilities. Accept that your abilities are what they are because you have dementia. Don’t blame yourself when you don’t do as well as you would like.  

Many people with dementia tell us that they lose self-confidence along the way. Be self-compassionate so that you don’t undermine your sense of confidence.  

Christine told us,

“When I was first diagnosed, I questioned my ability to make decisions, and allowed others to make decisions for me. That eroded my self-confidence.”

Overtime, Christine found that place where she could tell herself,

“I’m still okay; I can still do that; I can still manage this; I am still a good person.” 

In her journey to rediscover herself, she did some research and found many ways to help herself. As an example, Christine became involved in peer-to-peer support groups and eventually began writing a blog (Chrissy’s Journey – This helped Christine recognize things within herself. She began hearing from people who read her blog. They told her stories of how her writing helped them along their journey of self-discover; this in turn helped Christine to keep a positive attitude and helped with her own positive self-talk. 

Practice spirituality

For some people, spirituality is about practicing their religion. This might include praying or going to mosque, temple, synagogue, or church. It might mean behaving according to your faith’s teachings. 

For other people, spirituality is about connecting with the world around them, or themselves. They may practice meditation, mindfulness, or spend time in nature.  

Irrespective of what spirituality means to you, there is evidence that people who belong to a faith community or practice mindfulness have better mental health.  

Build emotional resilience

Do things which are meaningful and give you purpose, practice self-care