Self-care can be a loaded term for caregivers/ care partners of someone living with dementia but it is also a very important tool that can assist in preventing or improving symptoms of caregiver stress or burnout.

Caregivers/ Care partners can react with exasperation at the mention of the “self-care” term. Statements like these are common:

“I don’t have time and it’s too much work”

“I’m fine…I’ll focus on myself later”

“It doesn’t help me, it only makes me feel guilty”

The lives of dementia caregivers/ care partners are often externally focused on those they are caring for and conversations about self-care can create feelings of stress, frustration or anxiety because many messages about what self-care is can be confusing or vague.

In this article, we’ll explore two common myths about self-care.  We’ll break down what they are, explore the obstacles they involve and offer some alternative ways of understanding and engaging in self-care activities.


Self-Care Myth: I don’t have time.

Self-care is time consuming and needs to be planned in advance.

Myth Breaker: What is Self-Care for Caregivers?

Self-care can be anything, as long as it gives you a sense of accomplishment or pleasure.

Sense of Accomplishment: Activities that offer a sense of accomplishment are often practical in nature; for example paying the bills, tidying an area of your home, mowing the lawn.

Sense of Pleasure: Activities that offer a sense of pleasure are not practical. These activities help us to enjoy ourselves, feel calm or energized; for example, a bike ride, gardening, visiting a place of worship, meditation, going out to the movies, a nap. If you are not interested in an activity, then it is not self-care.

Obstacles to Self-Care

In our work we often hear from care partners that it’s easier to emphasize the practical activities and more difficult to make time for activities that offer pleasure and calm.

Many care partners report feelings of guilt, remorse or regret when they try to plan a self-care activity. They may also feel pressured to “get the most” out of their self-care activity, because they know the experience was planned as a way to relax.

Learnings: What Can I Do?

It’s important to understand that doing self care activities may not feel good right away. As you make your self care a priority it’s normal to feel frustrated and for thoughts like “it’s useless, I don’t have time, it’s not working” to come up. This is a normal process of change. These thoughts and feelings will decrease with practice. Small consistent changes will add up over time.

  1. Look ahead in your calendar, and find a time that works for you. The amount of time is up to you, 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 1 hour.
  2. Then list the activity you plan to do:
    1. Are you planning a practical activity, like getting the bills paid, folding the laundry, a doctor’s appointment for yourself?
    2. Is it a pleasure activity, like a short walk, gardening, reading, coffee with a friend?
    3. Be mindful if you are scheduling more practical than pleasure self-care activities.


Self-Care Myth: I feel fine

I don’t need self-care, I feel fine.

Myth Breaker: What is Self-Care for Caregivers?

Everyone can benefit from reducing stress. Research shows that people in a caregiver role are at higher risk for physical and mental health illnesses. For example, caregivers can have more difficulty with sleep, heart health issues, and an increased risk for diabetes, depression and anxiety. You may feel exhausted, depressed, anxious and irritable on a daily basis. The physical and emotional challenges occur over the period of caregiving.

Obstacles to Self-Care

Focusing on the person you are caring for, their emotional, physical and practical needs, becomes second nature for care partners. Some care partners describe feelings of guilt, frustration and resentment when they are told “take care of yourself”. Trying to balance all of the tasks and responsibilities, while also doing things for yourself can seem impossible.

Learnings: What Can I Do?

Caring for someone with dementia is complex and challenging. Improving and maintaining your own well-being will help improve your mental, emotional and physical health. Taking time for self-care can help you do the caregiving tasks in a more efficient and productive manner. When caregivers include their own self-care as a priority, both the caregiver and the family member with dementia benefit.


Quiz:  Are You at Risk for Developing Caregiver Stress?

People who experience caregiver stress report feelings of physical and emotional exhaustion, new or worsening health problems, difficulty concentrating and increased feelings of anxiety, depression and irritability.  Take our quiz to see if you are at risk for developing caregiver stress.


Andrea Cain, M.A., R.P.
Mental Health Clinician and Instructor

Gita Lakhanapal, OT Reg(Ont), R.P. , MES
Educator – Mental Health Clinician

Cyril, Dorothy, Joel and Jill Reitman Centre
for Alzheimer’s Support and Training & Outpatient Geriatric Psychiatry

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