A new service has been launched in Stoke-on-Trent to support carers amid growing concerns that looking after loved ones with dementia can be damaging to mental health.
According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are currently around 850,000 people in the UK with dementia.
People living with the illness often suffer from memory loss, a reduced level of cognition and lower behavioural awareness.
It can trigger huge emotional and physical challenges – not just for the person with dementia – but also for family and friends who have taken on the role of carer.
Throughout September, health professionals, carers, community groups and charities across the globe will come together for World Alzheimer’s Month to help raise greater awareness and understanding of the disease and its impact.
Closer to home registered Nurse Tracy Gough, author of ‘My Dementia Journey – one step at a time’, is using her expertise to help improve the mental wellbeing of dementia carers after launching a new counselling service.
Tracy, 47, from Stoke-on-Trent, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the care sector, works with both carers and those coping with bereavement from dementia on a one-to-one basis to provide tailored support sessions and advice.
She said: “Caring for someone with dementia can have a profound effect on that person’s own mental wellbeing. It can trigger all sorts of thoughts and emotions from fear and uncertainty to depression, anger and frustration.
“In many cases, it can be a lonely and isolating experience and one of my biggest concerns is that there is not enough support available to assist carers through their own personal dementia journey.
“I’m aiming to try and change this by providing a safe place for carers to off-load their worries and concerns and help to reduce symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
“There are lots of small, simple changes which carers can make to their daily routine which will have a positive impact on both their lives and that of their loved one.
“The one-to-one coaching sessions are a really good starting point to help identify what small steps can be taken, as well as helping to establish a more positive mindset and outlook.”
Large charities and organisations such as Alzheimer’s Research UK are continually looking at ways to prevent and cure dementia but Tracy, Dementia Ambassador for Staffordshire, said, unfortunately, there is still a huge lack of understanding around the disease.
There are thought to be more than 100 different forms of dementia, the most common being Alzheimer’s.
The mum-of-two said: “We may be a long way off finding a cure for dementia but in the meantime, there are around 700,000 people in the UK caring for someone with the illness.
“Right now addressing and supporting their needs both mentally and physically is crucial because we cannot expect carers to look after their loved ones if they don’t feel supported themselves.
“Providing support during bereavement is also critical. Quite often, the loss of a loved one can feel like a second bereavement as many carers find they ‘lose’ either their husband, wife, sister or brother during the dementia journey too.
“The sessions I offer, support people with their individual needs through the grieving process.”
In time, Tracy hopes to expand the range of services on offer to carers of dementia patients and she is currently busy writing her second book ‘Gone but not Forgotten’.
Due to be published later this year with the support of independent publisher Team Author UK, the new book will support people experiencing bereavement through dementia.
For both carers and those who have lost a loved one to dementia, Tracy advocates creating a journal as an effective coping strategy. She believes writing down feelings and emotions are an important part of coming to terms with diagnosis and loss and her books support this philosophy.
She said: “By carers documenting their feelings through their dementia journey, it can help identify where they most need support.
“It is also a really powerful way to help them remain emotionally connected to their loved one which is really important when things get tough.
“Both my books provide opportunity and guidance on what to write down and when and this is already proving a very helpful tool for many carers who have brought my first book.”