Keeping carers connected in their communities
This year’s Carer’s Week aims to help family carers stay connected in their communities, which is why we’re sharing some helpful tips and resources for carers to use so they can connect with the right people.
Carer’s Trust reports that the number of carers in the UK continues to rise, with around one in ten people providing care for family or friends. That means 7 million people are taking responsibility for supporting someone who cannot fully support themselves, due to ill health, mental health problems, disability or addiction. By 2030, it’s estimated that 60% of the UK population will be carers.
Being a carer can be a fulfilling experience, with many carers being very dedicated to their role and grateful for the opportunity to look after someone close to them, but caring can also be emotionally and physically demanding. Carers may experience difficulties with their own physical or mental health, as well as with work, finances and quality of life.
As a business providing daily living aids that help people live independently at home, we’re keen to help raise awareness of what it’s like to be a family carer, which is why, in this article, we aim to help carers connect with services and resources that can help make their lives easier, more balanced, and make caring even more rewarding.
Make your own health a priority
Carers are likely to have lots of other normal responsibilities as well as those that support the person they are caring for. Juggling these pressures sometimes leads carers to experience stress or other mental health conditions such as anxiety and even depression. Caring can also increase a person’s risk of developing other long-term health conditions. For example, Carers Trust states that carers providing high levels of care are at a 23% higher risk of stroke.
It’s really important for carers to find a balance between all their responsibilities, be it parenting, working, caring and so on, but also make time for themselves to address their personal wellbeing. Diane Wright was a carer for two decades to her husband Mick who had multiple sclerosis, and she told us:
“It is very difficult to care for yourself when the pressure of being a family carer is so immense. In hindsight, I didn’t take care of myself, I felt low and tired.”
We’ve talked about the importance of self-care in a caring role before and we know that our Wellbeing Diary has become popular with carers and other people who need to focus on their own needs to reduce stress.
Carers Trust suggests that mental ill health is common amongst carers who do not take regular breaks from caring. Lots of carers find that circumstances lead them to forget about their own needs and they find it difficult to take breaks of more than a few hours. As Diane found, there are ways for carers to take longer breaks:
“Respite services were my lifeline. I was given 6 weeks funding a year from the local authority and the MS Society. This enabled me to take holidays with the family or take a well-earned rest at home. The respite is for the patient though - not the carer, so had Mick declined the offer or not wanted to go away, then we wouldn’t have received the funding. However, Mick did accept the offer of respite and he received some great care at local facilities.”
The mental health charity Mind offers advice and support for people who may be struggling to cope if they are caring for or supporting another person.
Figure out a work-life-caring balance
Some people provide care for their loved ones whilst also working, and nearly one in eight workers is also a carer – that’s over 3 million people juggling care with work. For some people, this may cause challenges, such as needing time off to take the person they care for to a healthcare appointment, leaving work in an emergency, managing family routines and responsibilities, etc.
It’s important for carers to understand their rights regarding employment. For example, carers have a legal right to request ‘flexible working’, which could mean changing working patterns or part-time working, if they feel this could help them manage their work and caring roles more effectively. An employer has to take this request into careful consideration (but does not have to agree to it). There are a number of other legal rights that working carers should make themselves aware of.
Many carers choose, or feel they have no choice but, to give up their jobs due to their caring responsibilities. Carers Trust states that one in five carers gives up employment to care. Elaine from Leicestershire has multiple health conditions including MS, chronic kidney disease and diabetes. She told us that her husband John gave up work to care for her full time:
“Let’s face it, John didn’t marry me all those years ago to become my carer... He gave up his own career and evolved into the role. He has taken on elements of my personal care without blinking, he is my transport service and he helps me with the unseen symptoms such as fatigue and stress. He has also taken on all the household and cooking duties and is my Deputy Medication Manager (I take about 40 tablets a day).”
Other people we’ve spoken to in the past have told us similar stories, such as Emma, whose uncle gave up his beloved career as a secondary school teacher to care for his mum who had Alzheimer’s.
“My mum (her daughter) took care of Nan most days whilst my uncle was at work, but eventually he left work to become her full time carer… My uncle was a complete hero and ensured Nan was well looked after at home for 7 years, until she went into hospital for the final time.”
This is not uncommon, and Carers Trust has revealed that two thirds of people with dementia live at home and most are supported by unpaid carers.
So it seems that some carers have to leave work to provide full time care, which may be difficult for them, as work plays an important role in our sense of identity, wellbeing, social connections and, most obviously, household income. Carers UK provide information for people who are considering leaving employment to be full time family carers to help them make the right decision.
Connect with other carers and get the right help
Being a carer can sometimes feel lonely, despite possibly spending a lot of time with the person or people being cared for. Carers UK research in 2017 reported that more than eight in ten (81%) unpaid carers who were surveyed described themselves as “lonely or socially isolated” due to their caring responsibilities. There are many ways for a carer to connect with other carers, which may provide a sense of support. Carers Trust provides online forums for carers to chat online.
Sometimes, whole families will share caring responsibilities, like Val’s family who rallied together to care for her mother who had Alzheimer’s disease:
“Luckily, as a family we managed to look after mum, with my brother Vaughn taking on caring duties in the mornings and evenings, me caring for mum during the day around part time work and my daughter, Hannah, caring for her grandma at the weekends. When it came to taking holidays, we also had other family members who could help out.”
Val’s family had each other for support which may have made their experience of care different and perhaps a little easier compared to someone who is a sole carer. However, Val was also keen to highlight that she and her family didn’t know where to go for information and advice:
“At the time, we didn’t really understand what these were as there wasn’t much support available and we didn’t know about any specific products to help mum live more independently. Even when doctors visited mum to assess her, we weren’t advised on what we could do to help ease the situation.”
It can be extremely difficult to navigate through the many services available but it’s important for carers to get all the help they can in terms of social services support, funding, benefits and equipment to make caring easier. Having the right equipment at home can help a great deal, for example:
- Moving and handling products can help make everyday tasks much easier for both carers and those they look after
- Technology called ‘telecare’ can help make caring for someone at home easier
- Daily living aids can help a person stay as independent as possible
You may be eligible to receive this type of ‘community equipment’ on loan from your local authority, so talk to social services for advice. We’ve also written a helpful guide on how to find the right daily living aids as well as lots of Buying Guides if you need to buy equipment yourself.
Carers Trust state that 35% of carers have missed out on state benefits because they didn't realise they could claim them. Our advice is, research all the options for help and support to make life easier, and if you are struggling to wade through all the information, or are not sure where to start, contact Carers Trust, Carers UK or a local carer support charity for advice and guidance. If you are new to caring, our First Time Family Carer Guide may also be helpful.
We hope this article has been useful if you’re a carer, or a person being supported by a family carer, or if you know someone who is in this situation. We’ve mostly talked about issues affecting adult carers, and we acknowledge that young carers may have different experiences of caring. Carers Trust and Carers UK both support young carers, and are a first port of call for young carers looking for help and advice.
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- May 13th 2020