Living well as a carer


Expert reviewer Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care
Next review due September 2020

Looking after yourself is one of the most important things you can do while caring for someone with dementia. If you can feel as well as possible, it will put you in a better position to support your loved one.

Taking breaks

“I think it's really difficult, because obviously you want to care for the person that you're looking after, and you always put their needs before your own. But generally just try to have an hour a day that's to yourself really. Whether it be having a bath or reading a book, or even just going to bed early. Just something for yourself, just an hour every day.” - Emily

You may find it difficult making time for yourself. When you do, you may feel guilty. But try not to feel bad for thinking about yourself. If you don’t care for yourself and you then become unwell or exhausted, who will look after your loved one?

Taking regular time out can help you cope. Even a short break could make a difference to your wellbeing.

When you do find a chance to do this, think about how you would like to spend the time. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Try making regular plans with a friend – or just get some much needed time alone.
  • Why not pick up that hobby or activity that interests you?
  • Do whatever helps you unwind. That might be reading, doing a crossword, listening to the radio or music, or watching your favourite TV programme or film.

One way to have some time off caring is to look into short-term care options for your loved one. This can include day care or respite care, which are offered by some care homes.

Your physical health

No matter how busy you are, don’t forget to look after your physical health. This is important both for your own benefit, and so you can give your loved one the best care possible.

You can help yourself to keep healthy by:


You may find it useful to have regular check-ups with your GP. This will mean you can get help if you have any problems along the way.

 Help when you need it

Choosing a care home can be stressful, especially if you’ve never done it before. Where do you start? Well, right here. Our helpful understanding care advisers offer free advice on anything from funding to finding just the right home. Find out more >

 Help when you need it

Your mental health

Caring for someone with dementia can be mentally draining. It puts you at risk of anxiety and depression, so it is really important to look after your mental health. You may find that it helps to:

  • keep up hobbies and interests that you enjoy
  • access support that will allow you some time off from caring
  • attend a local carers’ support group (see the section: Asking for help)

Speak to your GP if you are finding it difficult to cope with thoughts or feelings, or they are affecting your everyday life.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment and trying to accept things the way they are. It has been shown that it can have benefits for both people with dementia and their carers. We have more information about mindfulness.

Counselling and CBT

Sometimes, you may need a bit more support. Counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) may help.

There is a type of CBT called ‘cognitive reframing’. This really means learning to think differently. People with dementia can behave in ways that are frustrating to say the least. They may become suddenly upset or agitated without an obvious reason. It’s easy to get irritated and think they are being deliberately difficult when it is really the dementia that is the cause. CBT can help you to change the way you think about such difficult situations. You can learn and practise different ways of responding to them. As well as helping you cope in the short term, this has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress and depression.

Counselling can give you an opportunity to vent some of your feelings and talk about how you feel. There are different types of counselling. But the most important thing is that you find a counsellor that you are comfortable with and who encourages you to address your emotions and concerns.

There are counselling organisations across the country, where you can find help. Admiral Nurses are specialist dementia support nurses whose role is also to support carers and families. They can provide a listening ear and should be able to give you information about local services.

Asking for help

We started attending a dementia cafe once a fortnight. That was really good, because it was a social time for the people who've got dementia, but it was also a good time for us as carers to get together and support each other.” - Emily

Caring for your loved one may gradually become more physically and emotionally demanding as the dementia progresses. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Doing so may help you to carry on caring for your loved one.

Try to accept help you are offered. Or why not ask a friend or family member to step in, even just for a couple of hours? Having a short break could make all the difference.

Support groups in your area could give you the chance to talk to other people in the same situation. Support groups have been shown to improve carers’ wellbeing, as they allow you to share your worries and receive advice from people you can relate to. For information about local support groups, contact Alzheimer’s Society or Carers UK.

Friends and family

It’s important to stay in touch with friends and family. They can help you in a number of ways.

  • They may be able to help out caring for your loved one, while you take a short break or attend to other things.
  • They could provide opportunities for you and the person with dementia to socialise and remain involved and active.
  • They can provide emotional support and a listening ear. Telling them about your feelings and the challenges you face may help you.

Health and social care services

As a carer, you are entitled to a carer’s assessment from your local council. This is a chance to discuss your needs and to see whether social services can provide any practical, financial or emotional support.

You can arrange a carer’s assessment through your GP. See our page about support for dementia carers to find out more.


About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information is guided by the principles of The Information Standard and complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. We are also a proud member of the Patient Information Forum.

PIF member logo  This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

Related information

    • Carers Road Map. Carers Trust. carers.org, last revised March 2017
    • Victor E. A systematic review of interventions for carers in the UK: outcomes and explanatory evidence. The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, 2009. carers.org
    • Carers: looking after yourself. Alzheimer’s Society. www.alzheimers.org.uk, last reviewed April 2016
    • Dementia: supporting people with dementia and their carers in health and social care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), CG42 2006, last updated September 2016. www.nice.org.uk
    • Obesity: maintaining a healthy weight and preventing excess weight gain. NICE pathway. pathways.nice.org.uk, accessed 29 January 2016.
    • Start active, stay active. Department of Health, June 2011, updated March 2016. gov.uk
    • Sleeping well. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, last updated July 2014
    • Cooper C, Balamurali TB, Livingston G. A systematic review of the prevalence and covariates of anxiety in caregivers of people with dementia. Int Psychogeriatr 2007; 19(2):175–95. doi:10.1097/WAD.0000000000000072
    • Chien L, Chu H, Guo J, et al. Caregiver support groups in patients with dementia: a meta-analysis. Int J Geriatr Psych 2011; 26(10):1089–98. doi:10.1002/gps.2660
    • Paller KA, Creery JD, Florczak SM, et al. Benefits of mindfulness training for patients with progressive cognitive decline and their caregivers. Am J Alzheimers Dis Other Demen 2015; 30(3):257–67. doi:10.1177/1533317514545377
    • Vernooij-Dassen M, Draskovic I, McCleery J, et al. Cognitive reframing for carers of people with dementia. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 11. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005318.pub2
    • Support for the family and care providers (providing emotional support). Practical Dementia Care (3rd ed online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published May 2016
    • Admiral nursing: what is an Admiral Nurse? Dementia UK. dementiauk.org, accessed August 2017
  • Reviewed by Graham Pembrey, Lead Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2017
    Expert reviewer Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care
    Next review due September 2020



Has our health information helped you?

We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short survey will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

ajax-loader