My Family Care asks Katherine: We hear more and more about the Sandwich generation, and how people are caring for both their children and their parents. But one of the things we fail to grasp is when we become carers ourselves. What is a carer? What advice do you have for someone who discovers they have gone from dependent to carer? And what support is available for carers?
When inviduals become carers
Caring can happen in different ways - it can occur overnight - for example if a family member has a stroke or an accident - or it can creep up on you unawares, such as when a elderly parent becomes increasingly frail and unable to look after themselves at home.
Caring can encompass many things - providing emotional support, doing the shopping, going to medical appointments, managing finances or helping with personal care. However, many of us don't recognise ourselves as 'carers' but just see ourselves as daughters, sons, partners, parents or friends going about our daily lives.
On realising you are a carer...
Firstly, don't do it alone! It might feel like you're the only one caring, but the experience of looking after a family member, partner or friend is actually very common.
One in eight adults in the UK looks after someone. Caring will happen to most people at some point in their lives - in fact, every year, over 2 million people take on some kind of caring role.
At the start caring can be bewildering and demanding. One of the most important things is to accept that you do not have to do this by yourself, so:
Talk to family members and friends
Many people don't want others to think they aren't coping so they may hide how hard it really is. Family and friends may not realise how much support you are providing or the impact it's having.
They may find it hard to ask you or don't want you to think they are interfering. Carers UK has produced an innovative mobile and online app to support people who share or want to share care to help create a circle of care, making communication and coordination as easy as a text message.
Seek advice, information and a listening ear
Carers UK, for example, offers a wealth of information and our dedicated advice line also offers a listening ear service. Visit the website or call 0808 808 7777.
Get some practical help
Most people need some sort of practical support to help with looking after a loved one, whether they live in the same house or care at a distance.
If you need this sort of help on a regular basis it is a good idea to contact social services - or the social work department of your local council or trust - who can offer a range of support for older or disabled people and their carers.
To determine what help is needed and how much it might cost, they will carry out an assessment of the person you care for. To request an assessment contact the social services or social work department of your local council/trust or ask your GP or other health professional to refer you.
Talk to someone at work
Juggling the demands of caring with the responsibilities of a paid job can be tough but you are not alone - there are over three million people combining work and care in the UK. Telling your employer about your caring role is not always an easy step, but it may give you access to support you didn't know was on offer.
Find out which support and policies your employer may have by checking your contract, staff handbook or intranet, or speaking to your colleagues, HR or Personnel officer, line manager or union representative.
Carers also now have more statutory rights at work to help balance these responsibilities, including:
- A right to request flexible working
- A right to time off in emergencies
- Parental Leave (which includes disabled children)
- Protection from discrimination.
Look after your own health
You need to find the balance between looking after someone else and looking after yourself. It is not always easy but the better your physical and emotional wellbeing, the better you will be able to cope with the demands of caring. Make sure you:
- Watch your stress levels. Without the right support the stress of caring can take its toll. It's easier said than done but ensure that you make some time to relax
- Get proper advice from your GP to protect your own health and wellbeing and ask for a regular health check.
Katherine Wilson, Strategic Manager, Employers for Carers, Carers UK