Self-Care Apps and Resources

Self-Care Resources

The lovely people at Dorset Mind have put together a wealth of self-care resources to support people to feel confident in managing their own mental health and well-being.

From inspirational talks, books and feel-good media to self-care guides, coping strategies and the latest Apps to help monitor moods and boost daily wellbeing.

Here’s our guide to three of the many self-care Apps that Dorset Mind have recommended:

The First free App we tested is called MoodTools, (2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This App includes a test for depression, a thought diary, activity suggestions and links to guided meditation videos, soothing sounds and inspiring Ted Talks on mindfulness, vulnerability and depression.

We particularly enjoyed the soothing sounds of forests, waterfalls, waves, classical music, gentle rain and white noise. (the App links to Youtube).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mission of the App is to ‘package evidence-based therapeutic strategies and information in an accessible design’. Certainly it is simple to use and helpfully defines the different types of depression, the symptoms, the causes and explains the various treatment options including psychotherapy and anti-depressants.

The focus is on understanding depression and planning coping mechanisms including a ‘safety plan’ to support people when they’re feeling most vulnerable. The resources are mainly online but they are well chosen with something for everyone.

 

The second App we trialled is WellMind, developed in partnership with Dudley & Walsall Mental Health NHS.

 

The WellMind App (MHApp) has been designed to provide advice and signposting when you’re feeling anxious or stressed with practical ways to help you manage and understand your feelings so you can regain a sense of control.

The App asks you to record your mood including something you’re looking forward to, something you feel grateful for and something you’ve achieved that day. These responses can be added to a saved calendar so you can see patterns emerge and remind yourself of past efforts on darker days.

We particularly liked the guided breathing and muscle relaxation techniques to help you to stay calm during anxious moments – deep breathing is a skill that Julia Powell strongly advocates in her ‘Take Care of the Carer’ article out this month. (See below).

The App explains the effects of anxiety, stress and depression on different parts of the body so we can understand why our bodies may be responding in a certain way. Overall, it’s a simple but informative App with effective signposting to support networks and emergency contact numbers when self-management of anxiety levels becomes too difficult.

(The App also includes a very basic version of the snake feeding game which is intended to relax the player but is unlikely to hold anyone’s attention for very long!)

 

The third free App we tested was My Possible Self: The Mental Health App

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This App began life as a series of emotional health and wellbeing services founded by Joanne Wilkinson whose own life was transformed by the support of experienced clinicians. With the help of her two daughters, and in partnership with the Priory Healthcare Group, the App was developed as a way of putting affordable mental health tools, clinical guidance and support into everyone’s hands.

My Possible Self encourages you to take control of your thoughts and feelings through guided modules and mindfulness exercises. These include; reframing your negative thoughts, being kinder to yourself, checking in on your whole body and concentrating on your breathing. The App allows you to record your experiences and symptoms and helps you to understand your moods, and the activities, people and places that influence it.

This is a much more sophisticated App than the previous two, it has animated graphics and a library of podcasts, exercises and toolkits including a food and drink log, physical activity log and mood tracker. It also offers positive affirmations, motivational graphics and a wide variety of articles and videos with the option to receive messages by email to encourage further engagement and regular mood monitoring.

We found this a comprehensive and accessible App, well worth installing. You need to create an account, but this is easy to do and requires no personal information.  There are plenty of features to explore and self-care techniques to learn to ensure you feel more in control of your emotional health and wellbeing.

All of these Apps, and many more, offer a range of self-care strategies and mood boosters to prevent you feeling isolated, powerless and emotionally trapped. Sometimes, simply taking a pro-active step to explore the support and advice available, helps us regain control, shifts our perspective and enables us to positively connect with the world again.

Hope you enjoy trying some of these Apps for yourself, do check out the other self-care resources that Dorset Mind recommend including the NHS ‘Every Mind Matters‘ plan, we couldn’t agree more. Good luck!

Anna C. Park

Please Note: We cannot take any responsibility for the downloading of these apps onto your mobile phones or devices but would love to hear how you get on and whether you find any of them helpful. Please send us a message here.

 

 

 

Taking Care of the Carer

This post originally appeared in ‘Julia’s dementia blog‘ in October 2017. We are really grateful to Julia for sharing her personal story with us and hope that it will help other carers in the same situation.

Take Care of Yourself First

Whether you care for a relative with dementia at home, visit them in a care home, or are a professional carer you need to be mindful of the potential toll on your own physical and mental health. It’s helpful advice that I dismissed. I suggest you don’t make the same mistake.

Carers taking care of ourselves

 

 

 

 

 

When I started caring for my mother, I was touched by kind messages from people I hardly knew telling me to take care of myself. I struggled to understand why there was so much emphasis on the carer. After all, it wasn’t me who was desperately anxious, confused and vulnerable as my mother was. And I already looked after myself.

Above all, I wasn’t the primary carer (at that time); my mum lived in a care home. I didn’t face that burden. I just visited my mum. I was almost embarrassed at the idea I might be at risk….

Three serious infections in two years

…And yet, perhaps it was no coincidence that since my mum’s problems started, I had three serious infections, two of which triggered sepsis, and resulted in hospital admissions. Normally, fit and healthy, my first infection was within a couple of weeks of my mother being admitted to hospital. For me a urinary infection, quickly moved to my kidney, and affected my liver. I was cared for in the same hospital at the same time as my mother, though she was in a locked ward.

My last infection was severe pneumonia which led to pleurisy, and infections of my gall bladder and liver. I remained in hospital for 10 days, until I could breathe enough oxygen into my lungs unaided. I think the trigger for my illnesses was the huge emotional turmoil of caring for someone you love, someone who is so deeply distressed.

Feeling emotional and down

One weekend, I found myself feeling flat and weary during a visit with mum. I hadn’t intended to spend five hours with her that day, but I didn’t like to leave as she seemed particularly needy and helpless. That evening I had planned to restart a fitness class which I had neglected. I was looking forward to it, but while I was with mum, I started feeling physically tired and a little unwell. I talked myself out of the class, although it was probably the tonic I needed.

This ‘down’ feeling came from nowhere and sometimes took hold of my mood for several days at a time. It’s not unusual. Everybody feels blue from time to time. The problem was that someone I loved was living in a nightmare.

The cognitive impairment caused by the disease made it hard for mum to make sense of everyday things, her insecurities were amplified, her self-esteem assaulted, and she often ended up feeling scared and vulnerable. On top of that she was in a strange place, that because of dementia, never became familiar. As she often said to me “I am scared out of my pants”.

Physical and mental health toll

Caring for someone with dementia can have impacts you wouldn’t expect. “Carers of people with dementia have increased risk of developing dementia,” according to dementia care expert, Teepa Snow.

“Compared to non-caregivers, carers for people with dementia visited their GPs 50% more and took up to 86% more prescribed medications,” according to Alzheimer Scotland.

Family caregivers of people with dementia are “often called the invisible second patients”, according to an article in Dialogues, a clinical neuroscience magazine. “The effects of being a family caregiver, though sometimes positive, are generally negative, with high rates of burden and psychological morbidity as well as social isolation, physical ill-health, and financial hardship.”

literature review on the topic  concluded, “It appears that the majority of dementia caregivers are sufficiently disturbed to be of concern to the mental health professions.”

Reaction to emotional distress

Without the responsibility of managing mum’s daily needs, I didn’t face the 24-hour physical and practical job that some families do. The major impact for me was at an emotional level. I felt guilt and sadness. I was haunted by the thought she would be better off in her own home if only I was willing to support her. My sadness about her ongoing distress was at a deep and visceral level.

I was initially reluctant to connect my illnesses, with the situation my mother was in. Having subsequently learnt about the clear connection between mind and body, I think there is no getting around it. It is likely that my own emotions increased my susceptibility to illness.

So, although I already took good care of myself and my caring role at that time was minimal, I became more conscious of symptoms and moods, and more dedicated to preserving my physical and mental health. I learned to seek medical advice early if in any doubt at all. My persistence in getting medical attention during my third infection may well have saved my life. Not trusting my second diagnosis, I admitted myself to A&E where I was soon diagnosed with double pneumonia which quickly led to sepsis. In the UK, over a fifth of the 250,000 people who are affected by sepsis every year, die from the condition.

Take care of yourself

If your primary concern is your loved one, don’t forget you won’t be much use to them if you become ill. Teepa Snow, suggests you won’t be good company either, “If you’re in survival mode, you are not the kind of person that someone with dementia wants to be around!”

Even if you don’t think you are susceptible to physical or mental health strains it makes sense to be proactive. Alzheimer Scotland has put together a very useful guide for carers called ‘Looking After Yourself’ (PDF). I include the top tips here, though the whole document is well worth a read:

  • Exercise: Keep up or take up exercise and outdoor walking, as far as possible. It helps you to stay healthy and relieve daily stress. You may even be able to do some activities with the person who has dementia. Exercise is also very good for people with dementia, as I highlight in this post about tackling anxiety and depression.
  • Sleep: Regular sleep and rest are essential. If you don’t get enough rest it can lead to depression and affect your health. A leading neuroscientist recently highlighted a link between poor sleep and increased risk of developing dementia.
  • Health: Watch out for signs of your own physical or mental distress. Keep an eye out for symptoms that may seem benign at first. Don’t be afraid to get them checked out with the doctor. If you find you’re not sleeping, or constantly feeling down go to your doctor.
  • Relax: Try to take time out to do the things that you find relaxing such as getting a massage, doing yoga, or listening to calm music.

Breathe

Teepa Snow has advice about how to manage those stressful moments when you are with the person you care about, in the first of a great series of short videos for carers.  Take “three deep cleansing breaths” when you find yourself becoming fraught or distraught. This is important to address our physiological reactions to pressure. When we start feeling stressed our bodies tense up and our breath becomes shallow. We breathe in, but not out, as we go into survival mode. This stops us getting enough oxygen into our brain, which affects the emotional control centre and the front part of the brain that helps us to make good decisions. This short little exercise that you can do again and again, helps you to take care of yourself, and enables you to take better care of your loved one. Watch the video. When my mother was feeling anxious, I led her through a version of this exercise too.

Julia Powell now runs mindfulness courses and coaching for carers and people living with dementia. Contact her at julia@juliapowell.co.uk to be added to her mailing list for upcoming courses.

 

Feasts to Remember by Sally Knocker

Tomatoes on Toast and other Feasts to Remember

Food and Memory

One of my favourite meals is sliced fresh tomatoes on toast with lots of ground black pepper.  This takes me right back to my grandmother’s kitchen in a small cottage in West Sussex in England, where I spent many happy visits in my childhood.  I can see her preparing the tomatoes and remember sitting with her at the table where we would sometimes do a crossword puzzle or play a game of patience together.  She also made the best scrambled eggs and frothy, sweet, milky coffee.

Favourite foods are so often reminiscent of particular people and events in our lives.  The rituals associated with family meals can also be important whether it is an everyday meal or a particular celebration.  Food is much more than something which we need to survive physically.  It also feeds our sense of identity and belonging.

Menus for a Lifetime

When supporting older people, there is increasing talk of creating music collections which link to people’s life stories, such as the ‘Playlists for Life’ initiative.  But have we ever considered a similar focus on food – perhaps ‘Menus for a lifetime’ which charts some of the recipes, food and drink enjoyed by people in their childhood, working lives and on holidays for example?   These could perhaps be recreated and talked about as part of valuing that person’s unique story.

Even more important perhaps is to note the food that people really dislike.  I have a particularly bad memory of eating very pungent Goat’s cheese in a restaurant in France as a child, and I have never been able to touch it since.  Some of the people we support will have similar negative associations with some food, but how will we always know and make sure that the Chef is aware of these?

Recognising Cultural Identity through Food

Food is also an important part of cultural identity and in some care homes, there have been great examples of where team members have brought in home-cooked recipes from the Philippines, Poland or India, for example, to share with people living and working in the home.  The great smells, tastes and conversations that result in this sensory experience can be a welcome change to the usual menu of the day!

Conversation Starters

Creating conversation starters around food in the lead up to a meal can be a great way to whet the appetite:

“What is your signature dish?”

“When you were a child, was there anything you refused to eat?”

“What drink would you order at the bar on a night out?”

“What is your comfort food?”

Bringing in Recipe Books and grocery store magasines with pictures of different foods can also get people talking about meals they enjoy.

Food Heaven or Food Hell Choices?

So, when thinking what might be important to you if you were to live in a care home or attend a day centre, how confident are you that others would know your ‘food heaven’ or ‘food hell’ choices?  How can we take time to find out more about these with the people we support, either by asking them directly or talking to their family and friends?  Will you maybe make my day by bringing me tomatoes on toast…?

By Sally Knocker, Meaningful Care Matters Consultant Trainer

Meaningful Care Matters provides a range of educational resources on the topic of food and mealtimes as part of creating a sense of home with their Butterfly Approach.

For more information about our work, please contact: Admin@meaningfulcarematters.com

 

 

My Mum and Dignified Dining Solutions by Jo Bonser

In November of 2016, my sister and I were told our Mum wouldn’t survive Christmas.

These are the words no one ever wants to hear about their loved one, but my Mum’s GP warned us that Mum had given up on life and was ready to die.

There was no denying that Mum was really poorly, living at home with vascular dementia aged 95,  she had suffered 3 falls, several urinary and chest infections and had no appetite or interest in eating or drinking resulting in dramatic weight loss and dehydration. She would not pick up a knife or fork to eat and if you tried to assist her with a meal she would turn away from you.

However, my Mum was an incredibly strong, and stubborn, lady and we weren’t prepared to just accept what the care professionals said, so we set to work to do whatever we could to help her recover.

With my, then, 26 years experience from working in the care sector, and having some knowledge of nutrition and hydration for our elders,  I decided to take charge of Mum’s mealtimes and began to observe her mealtime behaviours to see what I could do to improve her dining experience and ultimately her nutrition levels.

I learned that getting people with dementia to eat can be challenging, and that complex interaction with the mealtime environment, plus many eating difficulties can prevent their nutritional intake.

Following research, I found an online mealtime assessment tool and started to observe Mum’s mealtime behaviours, to identify, find solutions and create a care plan to help overcome her mealtime eating difficulties with the goal of bringing enjoyment for her at mealtimes, giving her back her mealtime independence, preventing malnutrition and improving her quality of life.

The assessment tool provided me with a list of suggested interventions of which I chose several to trial with Mum including:

  • Decluttering the mealtime environment to reduce confusion levels.
  • Reducing noise levels resulting in a calmer setting which improved her nutrition
  • Introducing adapted crockery and cutlery to help her regain eating independence
  • Eating with her to make mealtimes more social occasions

Mum’s transformation was miraculous! Within weeks, Mum was back to eating completely independently, enjoying her meals and gaining weight.

The care professionals couldn’t believe her transformation and her end-of-life care nurse, Sally, stopped her visits saying ‘you don’t need my help anymore!’

Having seen Mum’s transformation, I wanted to share my learnings with others, who were caring for people with dementia, to enable them to also experience more positive and dignified mealtimes and improved nutrition.

And so Mum provided me with the inspiration to write my guide, as a free resource, with one aim – to help people with dementia achieve the most dignified, independent and delicious dining experience possible.

I had walked a mile in the shoes of those who care for people with dementia. I had faced their challenges, and I had been able to overcome them and I wanted to share the strategies which had worked for us.

I wanted to empower care managers and their teams and family members caring for people living with dementia to understand they CAN make a big difference in the way they support their people to lead to improved engagement and enjoyment at mealtimes.

I wanted them to really think about how their dining experience made their residents feel by putting themselves in their shoes.

Would their dining experience pass the ‘Mum’ test – would it be good enough for their loved ones? And if not why should it be good enough for anyone else?

My guide is designed for busy care managers and anyone who ‘s role involves supporting nutritional health. It is packed with best practice guidance and combines solutions to mealtime challenges, tips to improve the dementia mealtime experience and ideas of product solutions that are enabling for people with dementia.

My guide launched in 2017 and was requested and distributed to many different care professionals and types of organisations, more than I could have imagined: OT’s, care home managers, local authorities, care trainers, CQC inspectors, SALT teams, dieticians, care quality consultants, care catering specialists, end of life nurses and home care companies to name just some of the people who have had copies and have fed back what a valuable resource it has been.

Following feedback from a senior dietician within the BDA, who highly rated it and helped me to improve it, I updated it in 2018 and very much see it as an evolving resource as I learn more, and more research is done.

In 2018, I delivered ‘The Dementia Mealtime Challenge’, an interactive workshop I created based on my guide, at the National Association of Care Catering annual training and development forum. Several people who were present, have since come back to say ‘thank you we have implemented all the suggestions from your workshop!’

This is now available as a workshop for teams in care homes who are serious about looking at ways to improve their mealtime experience.

2019 saw me start my first consultancy project after an outstanding care provider approached me to work with them on a project to further improve their already excellent mealtime experience. This led to me developing a range of services to offer care homes including:

  • Mealtime observational audits
  • Enabling independence at mealtimes assessments for individuals
  • Creating enabling dining environment audits for people living with dementia
  • Mealtime equipment audit
  • Partnership working with care teams on improvement plans and implementation.
  • Retained support to measure continuous improvement.

I am passionate about helping people and sharing my knowledge,  and with my own experience and care sector background would love to work with more care homes to help them too.

 

I was thrilled to speak in the Dementia Theatre at the Care and Dementia show, and to launch our new video celebrating dining in care made in collaboration with Ian Donaghy; ‘Made with Love’.

by Jo Bonser

 

Download your own copy of my Dignified Dining Solution Guide using this link: https://hcsuk.co.uk/dignified-dining

You can visit Jo’s website here: www.hcsuk.co.uk.