LOOK AFTER YOURSELF CARING FOR A RELATIVE WITH DEMENTIA: FALLING ILL YOURSELF

Many people looking after an older person with dementia are themselves elderly and suffer from chronic medical conditions of one sort or another. If on top of these they also have to cope with the mental and physical demands of caring for someone with dementia, it is possible that their own illnesses may be aggravated. Many have to struggle on despite being unwell themselves.

If, however, a carer is really laid low with a medical problem or has an accident, such as a fractured thigh, somebody else is going to have to look after the sufferer. If possible, try to avoid a social crisis at the last minute by making contingency plans, ensuring that your general practitioner is aware of them or better still has helped in drawing them up. Many carers can call upon family and friends in emergencies such as this, as long as there is no likelihood of a protracted, drawn-out illness.

If at all possible, it is always better for sufferers from dementia to remain in their own home, even if their normal routine is broken and people with whom they are less familiar are there to look after them. If this arrangement looks unlikely to work, it is probable that admission to a hospital or a home will have to be organized, at least for the short term.

What happens if the carer collapses unconscious, unable to call for help? This situation does not arise very often, but sometimes it does and many people, particularly older spouses, worry about it. The best way of coping with this is to arrange for someone to look in regularly, once or twice a day, and to give them the means to report back to a third person, usually another member of the family or a doctor, if anything seems amiss. The unavoidable intrusion into the carer's life-style has to be balanced against the advantages of such a scheme. An alternative approach is to use the telephone to make regular daily contact.

There is also the possibility that a carer may fall without losing consciousness, but unable to summon help. A person with dementia may well be incapable of helping in these circumstances and can sometimes make matters worse. Having a pendant or wrist-watch alarm system will usually instil a feeling of confidence and will be of practical benefit should the need arise. These systems usually consist of a small box, about the size of a Wrist-watch or slightly larger, in the middle of which is a button that can be pressed if an emergency occurs. They are usually linked to the telephone and set in motion an automatic chain of events that will lead to appropriate medical or other assistance being called up. In some parts of the country these are provided free or at a subsidized rental but even if the full cost has to be borne, it is worth it for the peace of mind of all those involved.

Contingency plans should certainly be worked out for the event of your own death; permanent alternative care will be required and your own funeral has to be organized. These are matters that are best discussed with other members of the family and the general practitioner even though at the time it may seem unnecessary. Some people even take the trouble to make their own funeral arrangements with a local funeral director, letting their relatives, general practitioner, or others know the details. It may also be a wise precaution to lodge details of any plans you have made with your solicitor, along with your will and information about any other relevant matters that you think are important.

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General Health