As an informal carer for my Dad with schizophrenia and a memory impairment, life can be tough. It can be even tougher when raising teenagers and when dealing with the sudden death of a parent whilst all of this is going on. Well, they say that what does not kill us makes us stronger. I am not sure that this is true for me yet as I am still learning to cope some 6 years on. It is Mum’s 6th anniversary next week.
There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness and I know that memory impairment fills older people with despair and robs them of their dignity just as much as schizophrenia is generally not accepted by wider society. One person in hundred will live with a psychotic illness such as this and this illness punishes the family members as much as the individual with the disorder.
There are a few quick wins for me to settle my father down when he forgets things that he knows truly he shouldn’t. Firstly, when Dad is feeling frustrated because he has forgotten somebody’s name or calls an item in the house a ‘thingy’, I tell him that this sometimes happens to me (this is not lying). Also, to always focus on the positive things that the individual concerned has achieved in their life as my Dad certainly achieved a lot in his life. There will always be one sibling that will focus on the negative situation. Education is required simply. Allow them to see positive results through positive interactions, videos and professional healthcare workers input.
Like with a child in full swing of a tantrum, it is encouraged to walk out of the room and count to ten when repetitive discussions and reminders drive us close to insanity when caring for others. Seek respite support too when we need it and do not allow the person to see our frustrations because they need our love more than ever right now when they are the most vulnerable. Surprise them with “I Love You” when they least expect it. It makes them feel safe and not fear rejection.
I often find playing familiar music on a play list soothes Dad on his worst days. Sometimes for me he has never been happier as paranoia has been a regular manifestation throughout his and my working life. Paranoia, aggression and anxiety co-habit with schizophrenia and memory impairments.
The most important thing is to find out as much as you can what makes people happy before their memories deteriorate to the worst stage of forgetfulness. These are the things that I did and still do for my Dad at 75 years of age. Do not let their care take over your life because they will not thank you. In this way you will see them as the person that you loved in their rightful position in the family or friendship. Finally, take photos and videos on energy fuelled days – plenty of them!. Most importantly, laugh and cry at things together because these happy and soulful memories will make everything OK when your caring role ends.