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How can I care for mum with dementia when I can’t cope myself?

Dear Lesley

I’ve recently learned my Mum has mixed dementia. She was diagnosed almost two years ago but I’ve only just found out. Since then she has also got septicaemia and pneumonia, although she’s on the mend from the pneumonia now.

I have three brothers and I’m the only girl. I’m also the youngest. My brothers don’t bother to visit Mum and haven’t for years.

I feel so alone. I struggle with depression and anxiety quite badly anyway. I have my daughter living here but she’s no support as she has her own life and dramas. I feel alone and isolated and have pushed many people away already. Not much hope for my poor Mum as I’m all she has got and I’m a complete mess since I found out.

Please help.

Lesley replies

I’m so sorry to hear about this difficult situation.

I understand that it’s really tough for your Mum, but first of all let’s focus on you. When we spoke on the phone you said that you would really like to look after your Mum as she had been such a good mother to you. I think in order to do this, you’re going to need to take care of yourself too. You talked about your fragile mental health, an earlier trauma in your life and how sometimes you feel desperate. You don’t get much help from family and friends and you’re worried that you might be going through an early menopause. Most of all, you feel alone with your problems and feel like no one really ‘gets it’.

Asking your GP for help

Getting support is not easy – but there are many services available, especially if you’re persistent. If you talk to your GP, you may be eligible for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), so that you can talk through your anxieties. There may be a long waiting list so it’s worth doing that as soon as possible.

You can also ask about ways of coping with the menopause or peri-menopause if that applies to you. And do tell the GP that you are a family carer to see what additional information and support is available for you.  Carers UK have some useful information.

Recruiting family and friends

You said that you push people away, but my sense is that they have walked away and you have, understandably, given up. You can’t force your brothers to visit their Mum but you can keep reminding them that she would love to see them. And I think you can certainly put a little pressure on your daughter to go and visit her grandmother.

Sadly, dementia is such a cruel and unpredictable disease that your friends simply may not understand what you’re going through. That said, a really good friend would try to listen or offer help in the way that you told me you like to help other people with their problems.

Joining support groups

If none of this works, there are many charities and professional organisations that offer guidance and help. Carers UK and Age UK have helplines. They may be able to point you in the direction of a local carers support group where you could meet others in the same position and perhaps make some new friends.  You can also go online and post comments or see how others are coping on the Mumsnet website or via the Alzheimer’s society.

Looking out for Mum

Hopefully you will find a way to get some support and as you begin to feel stronger you can think more clearly about care for your Mum. You told me that you had promised her that you would never ‘put her into a home’. Families often make promises like this with all the best of intentions, but sometimes we have to accept that our relatives may need the kind of specialist or ‘round the clock’ help that we are unable to give.

Although your Mum has been diagnosed with dementia, it seems like she doesn’t really want to accept this. But you are aware that she may be at risk – sometimes leaving the bath running or putting the kettle on the stove.  You said that she hasn’t been given any medication and while there is no way of curing dementia, she might be able to take something to slow down its progression.

Do arrange for her to see her GP. Go with her if you can to try to get as much information as possible about her state of health and whether any medication is available.

It would also be a good idea to have a social services assessment done. Your Mum may well be entitled to additional care and benefits and adaptations at home, and you could get some advice about planning for the future.

I do hope you will try to get some support as soon as possible rather than bottling up your feelings. Although you say that you are all your Mum has got, you sound kind and caring and I think she’s lucky to have you.

 Dr Lesley Trenner is an eldercare coach with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to cope with the ’emotional rollercoaster’ of eldercare or balance caring responsibilities with a  busy career. Sessions are available face-to-face (London) or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat. You can also visit her Facebook page.

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Photo by Andrew Small on Unsplash

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