Taking care of yourself if you’re caring for an elderly parent or relative, or if it’s one parent caring for the other, is essential. Not just for the carer’s own well-being, but to ensure the person cared for is able to continue to live happily, safely and well. This guide – a 9 point plan to care for the carer – includes practical resources and ideas to help with every day.
1. Who is the carer?
Husband, wife, son, daughter, neighbour. Also a carer. The first step is to acknowledge the role of carer. Whether providing shopping and housework help, or 24/7 personal care, medication and appointments, it’s all care and caring. Without recognising being a carer it is easy to miss information, guidance and support that can help. It is also easy to under-estimate the toll that being a carer takes.
2. How much care?
Caring responsibilities can increase almost unnoticed over months and years, or as may be the case, dramatically increase with a medical emergency or a fall.
Whatever the stage or pace of change, it is important to recognise how much care is being given. It may start out as some shopping or help with every day tasks, but easily become 24/7 care including medication, help with personal care as well as maintaining a quality of life. This responsibility over time is enormous, emotionally and physically exhausting.
If you are caring for a loved one, keep a diary of what you do in a week and a month; this may help you talk with your employer if you are working and caring; or for a wider discussion with other family members who may be able to help out. It is also useful for a carer’s assessment.
If one parent is caring for the other it can be difficult to know how much they are doing particularly if you live a distance away. There may be some indicators to look out for:
- Is the main carer still doing things they enjoy and able to get out and about as they used to?
- If one parent is caring for the other are they both spending more time at home, perhaps making excuses about not going out?
- Have you noticed things are different around the home? More mobility aids such as grabrails? Struggles in and out of chairs/upstairs? Is the kitchen as it normally is – have you looked in the fridge lately?
- Are they keeping on top of paperwork and other household chores?
- Is the carer appearing to be worried about things more often, looking tired or appearing more anxious?
Our “Prepare to Care” checklist is a great way to start to think about all matters elderly care.
If one parent is caring for the other both their lives may become increasingly diminished as more care is needed at home. With more caring responsibilities may come more anxiety about what could happen if the carer can no longer cope. Fear of losing their independence at home, and worse, may mean that they don’t share their anxieties. If you can’t find out directly, perhaps there is a cleaner or neighbour who might be able to tell you a bit more.
3. Carer’s Assessment
Everyone who spends time caring for someone else is eligible for a carer’s assessment from their local authority. This will determine what care and how much they are giving, and what help and support is available to them. It might recommend things like:
- someone to take over caring so you/your parent can take a break
- gym membership and exercise classes to relieve stress
- help with taxi fares for someone who does not drive
- help with gardening and housework
- training how to lift safely
- suggestions for local support groups
- advice about benefits for carers
A carer’s assessment is free and anyone over 18 can ask for one.
It’s separate from the needs assessment the person who is being cared for, but it can be asked for at the same time, which may be useful for a couple living together.
4. Carer's Allowance
Carer’s Allowance is the main state benefit for someone providing care for another. It is not means-tested, but is dependent upon someone providing 35 hours plus of unpaid care each week. The person being cared for must be in receipt of certain other benefits. There are other factors that will determine eligibility, which you can read about here. For the year 2023/24, carer’s allowance is £76.25 per week.
5. Local Support Groups and other help
In addition to other carer support groups, local organisations such as sports and social groups can be very helpful, providing regular contact for carers. The GP surgery may be able to offer social prescribing – non medical local support for people.
6. More Family Support
Whether it’s you as the carer, or a parent/relative, no-one needs to do it all themselves. If you have family, then try and make a wider family support plan to help share the responsbility of caring. Even if a sibling lives overseas for example, there are ways for everyone to play to their strengths and their availability to help out.
7. Respite Care
Respite care allows you or a caring parent some time for a break. It can be daunting to consider someone else looking after your loved one, even for an afternoon, but its a good idea to know that there are respite care options available should they be needed.
There are four main types of respite care:
- Residential respite – care is provided in a residential home, a nursing home or a local care home if they offer short-term facilities.
- Domiciliary or Homecare – arranging for someone to provide care in the home will minimise the disruption. This can either be accessed via a professional homecare service or perhaps through a local charity.
- Day care centres – a trip to a day care centre offers company and a choice of activities. They are usually geared up for socialising, but some can offer personal care – along with transport to and fro.
- Respite holidays – this can be a real win-win. Increasing numbers of holidays – hotels, cruises etc – offer breaks for carers and specialist accommodation for people needing extra care.
As the saying goes, a change is as good as a rest, so even one afternoon a week will make a real difference to a caring parent, despite their protestations that everything is fine and they don’t need help.
8. Working and Caring
If you are juggling work and caring responsibilities, talk to your employer. You are able to request flexible working, although it is at their discretion as to whether or not this might be possible.
Legislation due to come in next year (2024) will give all employees one week of unpaid care every year. This is not ideal of course, but a step in the right direction. With an ageing workforce and increasing numbers of family members as unpaid carers, it is hoped that employers may be more sympathetic to the needs of people caring for elderly parents and relatives.
Caring for a loved one is a privilege and is what family members do. But it is also exhausting. Ensuring the carer is able to have some time out to continue to do the things they love, is one important aspect of caring for the carer. Hopefully from this guide you will have found some useful ideas and tips to help.
9. Tech and other support at home
There is some great tech support to help elderly parents and relatives stay independent and safe at home, particularly useful for couples caring for one another. A personal alarm will raise an alert if the wearer takes a fall on their own; home monitoring services can check movement, temperature and other signs around the home, raising the alarm if all is not well. These don’t replace humans of course, but they are an extremely useful “extra pair of eyes”.
Caring for the carer can feel like a difficult task if someone does not consider themselves to be a carer, and doesn’t think they need help. Try and have the conversations as early as possible, so that you can be prepared, and put plans in place to share the caring responsibilities, and get the care that is needed.
If you reach the point where more care at home is needed, then do search our Home Care Finder for services near you.