This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
Dementia is a scary progressive condition that gradually worsens over time. For some people, dementia can start in their 30s and early 40s. For others, it comes with old age. Although there are many studies about how people with dementia can increase their brain health and deal with the effects of this condition, the spouse of the person with dementia may often be overlooked.
If you are married to or love someone with dementia, you may be afraid of what is to come. What can you do to protect your mental health and wellbeing while also supporting the person you love?
Here are eight ways to continue to care for yourself in this difficult time.
See a Counselor
There is no doubt that seeing your spouse go through dementia is traumatic and difficult. Anyone would feel confused, scared, and unsure about what to do next. That’s why counseling is such a valuable tool during this time and after your loved one is gone.
If you find it difficult to talk through your feelings, you may consider art therapy. Art therapy has been shown to be especially helpful for elderly women dealing with deep feelings of sadness or depression. You can even bring your partner along to some sessions, as art is great for the brain, and creativity can awake lost memories in those struggling with dementia.
Don’t Overlook Your Own Self Care
If you’re still living with your spouse who has dementia, you’re most likely living as a part-time caretaker as well, unless you have help. Even if you’re not at that point, things have likely changed in your relationship.
During this difficult transformative period, you may want to spend all of your time at your partner’s side, making sure they’re okay. That’s a very good thing to do, but it can also cause you to suffer from burnout.
If you are feeling exhausted or alone, it’s essential to focus a little on your own self-care. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Take a shower daily, cook yourself food, and make sure you get some alone time when you need it. You’re not selfish for needing time away.
Consider Caregiving Support
If things have become difficult to manage at home and you can no longer do it on your own or need a break for your mental health, you can consider caregiving support in-home. That way, your partner doesn’t need to go to a facility, but someone is still able to provide the 24/7 care that might be needed.
Caregivers are trained to assist patients with dementia and can provide house support for certain hours of the day and certain days of the week. During the times that the caregiver is at home with your spouse, spend some time doing something for yourself or with your children if you have any.
Try to see it as an extra set of eyes while you’re not available. After all, you’re not a superhero. You are human, and you do need rest and relaxation.
Keep Friends and Family Close
Having friends and family to support you through this time may be one of the most helpful things you can do. It has been proven time and time again that having a connection to one’s community and family reduces mental health issues and stress.
Take a walk once a week with your best friend or get tea with your sister. Spend time with the people who love you most. They may be able to give you further insight into your situation.
Allow Yourself to Cry and Grieve
It’s okay to accept that the situation you’re in is difficult and scary. It’s okay to cry and grieve the person you are losing. No matter how long you’ve been together, a marriage/relationship is a strong bond that is difficult to lose.
Don’t judge your emotions about the situation. Many people would feel similar to you in the same situation. You’re not alone, and it’s okay to feel. Feeling your emotions allows them to release, which will ensure you’re not walking around with a big weight all the time.
Try to Set Aside Time for Yourself
Schedule a day in your calendar for yourself. On that day, make sure someone else is with your spouse. Do something you love to do somewhere calming. Nature can have a calming effect on mental health, so you may want to spend time in the forest or go on a hike. No matter what you do, try to keep thoughts and worries about your spouse out of your mind until you get back home.
Consider a Full-Time Facility
It’s okay to consider a full-time facility if you need to. You may have fears about your spouse not being at home with you anymore, but they will be able to get better care from a team of medical staff members.
You will still be able to visit your spouse, and you can bring photo memories and music that they love to share with them. Most likely, anyone who has progressed enough to be in a dementia facility probably doesn’t feel hurt or upset that you’ve opted for that. They would probably be grateful that you have tried so hard to help them for so long.
While your partner is in the facility, work to get as much help as you can for your own mental health and wellbeing. See a therapist, take walks, and spend time with close family members and friends.
Learn as Much as You Can
Learn as much as you can about dementia to become the most informed possible about what your spouse is going through. If they’re still in the early stages, learn about ways you can increase their mental capacity and brain health. Being informed will help you make informed decisions when your spouse cannot do so anymore.
If you want to learn even more about dementia, here is an excellent website and advice column about the condition where you can learn more about getting help and living a whole and happy life with your spouse.