When dementia takes hold you need outside support because, as people get worse, they cannot be left alone for any length of time and the carer needs to share the burden with others.
When it comes to dementia you cannot ‘go it alone’. It doesn’t matter whether you are independent and used to managing your own affairs, that you’re ‘not a sociable person’ or are used to ‘keeping yourselves to yourselves’. You as a couple (carer and person with dementia) may pride yourselves on one, any, or all of these virtues, but it is important once dementia strikes that you re-think your attitudes.
Why do you need a support team?
A person who has dementia can NOT live alone successfully, and in a perfect world we would never expect them to do so. ‘Care packages’ that involve carers calling in once, twice or even three times a day to help someone living alone are only a stop-gap measure. Very good carers who take pride in their work and genuinely care about their clients can make a difference, but they cannot replace the constant watchful presence that is required in all cases except the very early stages of dementia. Sometimes, however, this kind of care is the only and right option at the time and in this case it is important to get the very best care package that you can as long as it is possible to manage this way.
On the other hand, spouses and partners who live with someone who has dementia are put under constant stress as they try to look after them. Living with another person – even when they are in good health – requires constant compromise as we adjust our habits, actions and conversation in the interests of ‘rubbing along together’. Over many years these actions and adjustments become habitual, but they still remain. The most important thing to remember and take note of is that in any social situation all persons are involved in this constant compromise. Of course we can recognise that most partnerships are unequal and that one partner may take more adjustments than the other.
Usually the person who makes more adjustments to the will of another does this willingly. Nevertheless, living with someone involves a constant daily compromise between pleasing ourselves and pleasing another. But people who have dementia gradually lose their ability to see another person’s point of view – they lose their ability to empathise, to understand the everyday compromises that kept the partnership going. The partner who is the carer is left making all the compromises – possibly without even the satisfaction of a shared sense of humour or of togetherness – and certainly without the feelings of support they may have once had from their partner.
This is a burden no one, however loving and dedicated, should carry alone.
If you are a carer in this situation you can build a team to help you.
Who will be on your team?
Your support team can consist of anyone who is prepared to give time and help to you and the person you are caring for: family, friends, neighbours, professional carers, staff in a day centre and support workers from organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Society can all be included.
For more support and guidance on building your team read The Essential Carer’s Guide to Dementia by Mary Jordan, available as paperback and ebook.