People with mental illness often have imbalances in their brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). The brains of people who have long-term mental illnesses show deterioration. People who have poor mental health often say they find it hard to think and they score more poorly on cognitive tests.
People with dementia are more likely to experience depression and anxiety and there are therapies available. For more information read the page 2.6 Help for depression and anxiety.
Emotional resilience is your ability to cope with and recover from difficult experiences. When there are challenges or low points in life generally or in the course of dementia, your emotional resilience determines how you bounce back versus how much your mental health suffers. This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel upset from changes that happen because of your dementia. Rather, you build your ability to manage despite the difficulties.
Here are some strategies to build emotional resilience:
- Do things which have meaning and purpose.
- Keep doing the things which are important to you in life. See the page 3.1 Managing symptoms to achieve what is most important for the ‘My life plan worksheet’ to identify goals, barriers, therapies and strategies which might help with these.
- Some people find meaning in relation to having dementia by volunteering in research, or working as a dementia advocate.
Join a research study
Potential benefits of participating in research include:
- You might get access to experimental treatments or services which aren’t available elsewhere.
- You’re educating yourself more about dementia and your therapy options.
- You might feel satisfaction at contributing to the research effort.
- You’re helping advance dementia research.
To sign up for research:
- Ask your doctor.
- Volunteer through Step Up for Dementia Research.
- Browse the list of studies which are recruiting participants via Dementia Australia.
If you’re particularly interested in being involved in research you can do even more than being a participant, you can be an advisor, consultant or co-researcher. Learn more at the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Become a dementia advocate
Dementia advocates are people who represent and speak for others with dementia. Dementia advocates give their time in a variety of ways e.g. share their views and experiences about dementia, provide feedback on new programs or policies which might affect people with dementia, speak publicly about their dementia, or sit on a committee representing the interests of people with dementia.
You might be able to volunteer to become an advocate as part of your local healthcare or aged care service – you can just make it known to the clinician or service manager that you’re interested in helping out to improve the service.
To become a dementia advocate, consider these opportunities:
- Dementia Australia has a dementia advocate program.
- You can also become a dementia advocate through Dementia Alliance International.
Self care means putting time and energy into looking after yourself. Looking after yourself might mean going on holiday or getting enough rest, grooming and getting dressed nicely, or doing things just ‘for yourself’. Self-care is an investment in your mental health and ability to move forward with dementia.
Here are some ways to practice self-care:
- Be kind to yourself.
- Don’t be too critical of yourself or your abilities. Accept that your abilities are what they are, because you have dementia. Don’t blame yourself when you don’t do as well as you want to.
- Many people with dementia tell us that they lose self-confidence. Being self-compassionate means that you’re not undermining your own self-confidence.
For some people spirituality is about practising their religion. This might mean praying, or going to the mosque, temple, synagogue or church. It might mean behaving according to your faith’s teachings.
For other people spirituality is about connecting with nature and the wider world, or themselves. They might practise meditation or mindfulness, or spend time in nature.
Irrespective of what being spiritual means to you, there is evidence that people who belong to a faith community, or practice mindfulness have better mental health.
Build emotional resilience
Do things which are meaningful and give you purpose, practice self-care.
Watch this inspirational video
Dementia Australia have shared these videos about people with dementia maintaining their physical and mental health on the Living Well with Dementia website: