Care for the carers in Dorset
A remarkable number of mostly charitable organisations around the county offer an enormous range of support, advice and help to the 40,000 unpaid carers whose vital and often selfless efforts keep the lives of others comfortably ticking over.
The fact that these carers can so easily overlook their own needs, especially when they are older themselves, has been picked up on by the Dorset Carers Information Service. See mylifemycare.com Among the services it provides are support groups, lunch clubs and community transport. It even offers a Dorset Carers Card, a discount card for use at more than 200 businesses around the county.
Carer Reward Cards
There are only a couple of similar card schemes in operation elsewhere in the country, but Dorset’s, administered since its launch in June 2016 by Peter and Julie England, is the only one funded by the local authority.
Julie says: “We encourage carers to let us know which businesses they would like to see join our scheme. Feedback shows that they are particularly keen to have a good choice of trustworthy tradespeople, but we are also anxious that there should be plenty of opportunity for the carers to make the most of any quality time they may have, so, for instance, we’ve Warner Leisure Hotels and Haven holidays among the firms offering discounts.”
One user describes it as a great scheme which recognises the value of carers, who are often making great personal sacrifices to support loved ones. Some card holders say they have saved between £100 and £150 in six months through the discounts they have obtained.
Carers need to register with the council to be eligible for a discount card, but once they have one in their name they can get money off at these and many more: bookshops, visitor attractions, cafes, restaurants, hair and beauty treatments, gardening services, dry cleaners, singing workshops and courses, computer repairs, car servicing, opticians, coach holidays, leisure centre membership and activities, veterinary care, domestic cleaning, counselling, garden centres and farm shops and legal advice – and even the Dorset County Show. See mycarerscard.co.uk
A more recent development to help Dorset’s carers is the rolling out to all 11 community hospitals of a ‘carer’s passport’ scheme, which allows access outside normal visiting hours and thus gives more support to patients when they need it. It was originally set up for carers of patients with dementia, but is now for anyone who cares for a relative, partner or friend with continuing physical or mental health problems.
Carers identify themselves at the hospital and are given a badge, or ‘passport’, which allows them to stay throughout the day and into the evening giving help and reassurance. Overnight stays are at the discretion of ward nurses. See dorsethealthcare.nhs.uk
Carer support in Dorset
An independent charity called the Leonardo Trust, based in Broadstone but covering the whole of Dorset, aims to help those who give care full-time to someone in their own home.
It was set up in 2001 by someone who was a full-time voluntary carer herself, and hundreds have been helped over the years.
The accent is on putting a degree of normality into the carer’s life wherever possible, and to this end there are funds available for such things as coach trips and days out, holidays and weekend breaks, night sitters, help with household chores and gardening, installation of access equipment, and social and leisure activities. See leonardotrust.org
How to offer support to a carer
Being too busy looking after someone else’s needs can too often lead to the carer forgetting or neglecting to think about themselves. Night after night of broken or lost sleep, long, harrowing days of being constantly on edge, administering care at all levels and rarely being able to get out of the house – all these elements of caring and many more can undermine health and threaten to break the spirit.
An all-pervading quiet in the home, where conversation is limited and company rarely calls, leads to crippling loneliness and, sometimes, despair. There is nothing like the sound of silence to make a carer feel very alone.
When the person being cared for is elderly, frail, perhaps with limited vision or hearing, or is confined to the home by illness such as a stroke or Alzheimer’s, it is crucial for the carer to seek relief and company. If the carer’s own health is compromised, then the equilibrium is under threat.
A friendly face, someone to share thoughts and feelings with, tease out problems and find solutions is uplifting in such circumstances and can make all the difference both to the carer and, in turn, to the person they are caring for.
Many volunteers with charities that support carers have been carers themselves, giving them an invaluable understanding and empathy. There are few things more supportive than wise advice – “I dealt with that problem this way” – or a friendly comment along the lines of “I know exactly how you feel and what you are going through.” Not feeling alone is often key to enabling a carer to get through tough times.