The unexpected challenges of caring for someone with dementia

Caring for a loved one living with dementia can be rewarding, yet challenging. We look at what you might experience and ways you can be resilient and ready for the changes.

When you become the caregiver for a loved one living with dementia it can drastically change your relationship and your life.

Here are some difficulties you might face and tips to help you deal with them.

Expect to be challenged 

Regardless of the condition your loved one has, the caring role will bring particular challenges, says Bupa’s Head of Dementia, Margaret Ryan. 

Caring for your partner can be: 

  • draining on your health and finance 
  • an emotional roller-coaster 
  • physically restricting 
  • socially isolating 
  • satisfying and rewarding.

Ask for support and help

“Everyone’s experience will be different, so it can be quite unpredictable. But it’s important to know that you are not alone and that there are people and organisations who can offer support.”

Financial support

“People now have more choice around available care, but navigating the system and finding out how to get a suitable package can be hard,” Margaret says. 

“Ask your doctor about home care services, talk with Carers Australia or Alzheimer's Australia and visit the government’s My Aged Care website.” 

Physical support 

It’s natural to want to look after your loved one’s every need, but it's not easy in practice. The physical demands alone can be intensive, so you need to take time out to look after your own health and fitness. Exercise regularly, eat well and maintain as normal a life as you possibly can. 

Social support 

Caring for someone can be an isolating experience. Keeping up social relationships can become difficult, and friends sometimes fall away because they think, “She’s too busy with Joe, she can’t come and play bowls anymore”. 

“Actually, it’s important that you do continue to play bowls,” Margaret says. 

She suggests talking to friends and family about helping out – they could play games with your loved one, look at old photos, listen to music with them, or go shopping or on a picnic. 

“Help them understand that Joe’s still your friend and I’m still me, so you can support me by doing these things.” 

Emotional support 

At some stage you may experience stress, anger, anxiety or frustration. Talk with a professional counsellor who can help you understand what’s going on and ways to deal with it. 

When you’re physically and emotionally assisting the person with daily activities like washing or dressing, it’s often hard to then also be a partner, son or daughter, Margaret says. 

“If you can have someone else come in and take over some of those duties, you have more time for the one-on-one relationship activities that you might normally enjoy together.”

Look after yourself

Looking after a partner at home can be a wonderful experience, but it is crucial that you care for yourself as well.

“Caring for the caregiver is important. If something happens to you, everything becomes a crisis,” Margaret says. “Don’t stop doing the things you enjoy, though you might have to change your schedule to fit in better with your partner’s routine.”

Make sure you look after yourself. Ask for help, schedule time out of the house, join support groups and take a holiday occasionally.
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