Christmas is over, the bills are pouring in, the weather is grim and your resolution to lose half a stone is a distant memory… So it’s hardly surprising that the third Monday in January (this year it’s Monday January 21) is now widely recognised as Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year.
Whilst many people are able to shrug off the post-Christmas blues pretty quickly, if you’re caring for a loved one with dementia, it isn’t always that easy to rid yourself of a persistently low mood. In fact, many family carers find that their ‘winter blues’ are actually full-blown clinical depression.
People living with dementia, especially those who are newly diagnosed, can also experience a significant amount of depression.
Here’s a few ways to help you both feel better:
1- Be honest with yourself
Did your low mood really only surface in January, or has it been rumbling on for longer? Maybe you’ve been putting on a brave face (as many family carers do) or maybe you’ve just been too busy to think about yourself. Feeling flat because it’s January is very different to feeling worn down, worn out and hopeless. If this sounds like you, it’s time to get professional help. Start by making an appointment to see your GP. Go here to find out more about carer depression.
2- Get in touch with nature
A little fresh air can be very therapeutic for both of you, particularly if you can go to a more natural environment, such as a park, woodland, a local beauty spot etc. Studies have found that nature provides one of the most reliable boosts to mental and physical wellbeing, offering relief from depression and stress, it can even improve short term memory, sleep and strengthen immunity.
But if mobility is an issue or if you live in a built-up urban area, don’t despair. Simply looking at pictures of beautiful landscapes has been found to boost mood and create feelings of ‘awe and wonder.’
Tip: Download images of the 50 most beautiful places in the world (easily available online) onto a tablet or laptop so that you both can get a quick and easy boost of natural beauty every day, or whenever required.
3- Try some pet therapy
Pets can play a significant role in treating depression, whether you have dementia or not. Animals have been used therapeutically to help people with emotional issues for years, helping to ease stress, anxiety and feelings of loneliness. Research now confirms they can have a particularly positive effect on those with dementia. It’s easy to see why; pets offer companionship, fun and unconditional love, and best of all, they don’t judge or criticise. They can also bring back many happy memories for people with dementia who may have owned pets in the past. If you’re an animal lover, having a cat sit on your lap, or a dog go mad with excitement when he sees you, remains one of life’s simple pleasures.
But don’t feel pressured into becoming a pet owner if you aren’t already. They’re a big, expensive commitment, particularly if you’re already caring for someone with dementia. Besides, there are other ways to bring a touch of animal magic back into everyone’s life.
- Borrow a dog. If you both love dogs, you could consider borrowing one from a local dog owner. You could both take it for a walk on Sundays or bring it into your home for a couple of hours a week. Start by asking dog owners you know if they’d like a helping hand occasionally. Or you could go here to find a friendly Fido in your area.
- Visit a local rescue centre – being around cats and dogs can bring enormous pleasure, even if you can’t take one home with you…!
- Find out if local day centres have visits from a Pets As Therapy (PAT) volunteer. Thousands of people benefit every week from these visits. If there aren’t any in your area already, go here to request one.
- Try an alternative to the real thing. If a living, breathing animal is too much responsibility for both of you, it’s worth considering investing in a therapeutic pet. They have a realistic look and feel and our research suggests that most families who decide to try one, are pleasantly surprised by their benefits. ‘I bought my Mum who has dementia the sleeping puppy which she loves,’ one satisfied customer told us. ‘’She’s been holding him and stroking him constantly ever since. On Christmas day when the house was noisy, her interaction with the puppy kept her calm and content. When I asked her if the noise was disturbing the puppy, she said ‘oh no, he hasn’t opened his eyes once!’
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