Welcome to the last of my seven ‘mini’ blogs for UK Carers Week 2014.
As regular readers of this blog know, I cared for my father for 19 years during his vascular dementia. For the majority of that time, however, I never considered myself a carer – just a daughter looking after her dad. As I said in my G8 Dementia Summit film, “You become a carer, but you don’t realise you’ve become a carer.”
For UK Carers Week 2014, I want to focus on questions carers often ask me, and indeed many questions I frequently asked myself during my father’s dementia.
Day 7 – How do I look after myself?
Most carers are great at caring for others, but less good at caring for themselves. In my case once a carer, always a carer – I’m still much better at looking after others than I am myself. Sadly I no longer have my dad to care for, but my love and dedication towards him is now focused on the rest of my family, sometimes to my own detriment.
I have no excuses though – I should be able to recognize when I need to give myself some TLC. However, in the pressure cooker of caring, with its intensity and all-consuming nature, carers are renowned for being terrible at spotting when they need help themselves, sometimes leading to severe consequences for their health.
I remember many people saying to me when my dad was alive and I was trying to juggle 10 different tasks at once that I needed to take some time out for me. Switching off is actually extremely difficult though, and knowing we were always just a matter of hours from dad being intensely poorly (infections always hit him fast and hard) made any concerns I had for myself pale into insignificance. Carers are always reminded that if you are poorly your loved one will suffer too, but whilst that’s great advice the practical application is much more difficult.
As more carers try to juggle multiple responsibilities, and are perhaps caring for more than one family member or friend, they are likely to think even less about themselves. The toll on their health can be huge, and can lead to the carer needing care, particularly if they are an older person or have other long-term health problems. Your GP practice can advise on a carer’s health assessment – remember, taking care of YOU is important too.