There are countless unacknowledged carers present in every community across the country. Being a carer is not limited to a specific age group or gender. It can be anyone, whether it's a teenage boy taking care of his parent with MS, a man in his forties who is caring for his partner who has cancer, or an elderly woman who is looking after her husband who has dementia.
People often don't think of themselves as carers, but Carers UK defines a carer as a "person of any age who provides unpaid care and support to a family member, friend or neighbour who is disabled, has an illness or long-term condition or who needs extra help as they grow older".
The 2021 census suggested that around 5 million young and old people provide unpaid care in the UK. A recent YouGov poll in 2023 commissioned by Carers Week charities indicated that this figure could be almost double.
Informal carers provide a vital and valuable role. Many provide care that might otherwise need to be delivered by local authorities. While caring can be tremendously rewarding, it is well-recognised that it can negatively affect the health and wellbeing of the carer.
Looking after yourself is vital
Caring for someone can be exhausting. If you spend most of your time focusing on someone else, it's natural to feel like you don't have time for yourself. However, taking care of your wellbeing is essential for you and those around you.
Based on experience from our many years of supporting carers, we've compiled some tips that have proved helpful for others. Even trying out one small thing can make a difference.
It's good to talk
There's truth in the saying 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. It is important to have someone to talk to.
Try to build a support network. Talk about your day and share your feelings with people you trust, such as family members, friends, or neighbours.
Join a carer support group in person or online. It's good to know that you are not alone.
Consider extra help
You are only human. If you try to do everything yourself, you may feel like you never make any progress. It's important to acknowledge what you reasonably can and can't do.
Exploring available services and funding can help:
Consider introducing a package of care.
Consider hiring a cleaner to take some weight off your shoulders.
Request a Carer's Assessment
A word of caution. We often speak to families who are worried because their elderly relatives refuse to accept any outside help. Under the Mental Capacity Act, individuals have the right not to accept help even if others deem it an 'unwise decision'. This can make life challenging to manage.
Don't put off the conversation and wait for an emergency to happen. Do your research and determine what services and funding might be available. Then, you can have an informed conversation with the person you are caring for and give them food for thought to help them consider the different options.
Request a Carer's Assessment
As a carer, you have certain rights. If you are providing care for someone over 18 years old, you are entitled to a Carer's Assessment from the local authority, regardless of your financial situation. This applies to people living in England, while in Wales and Scotland there are equivalent assessments. The assessment will be carried out by Social Services or the local Carer's Support group. During the assessment, you can describe how your caring role impacts your life and explain the type of help you feel would make things easier.
The assessment can result in various support services being provided on top of the usual package of care that the person you are caring for is receiving. These services might be a weekly block package of care, daycare or respite care, which will give you some time for yourself to reboot, rest, run errands, or socialise with friends. In some cases, the local authority may contribute towards the cost of this care. However, if they don't, they should be able to direct you to other support services.
Make time for you
It's easy to neglect yourself when you are caring, but it's important to prioritise your mental and physical health by setting aside time for yourself. Although it may be challenging, taking breaks is essential to keep your strengths and spirits up.
Prioritise time to do something enjoyable. Go for a walk, spend time with a friend, have a rest. What matters most is that you engage in an activity that is solely for you.
Once refreshed and re-energised, you should be in better shape to share quality time with the person you are caring for. Remember, laughter can often be the best medicine. As we mentioned in our recent article 'How to communicate with someone with dementia', try to have some fun together - sharing a laugh can be a great way to connect.
Go easy on yourself
Juggling caring with all of life's commitments can be overwhelming. Caring can be tiring and can take its toll. Stress and exhaustion can lead to feelings of guilt. Go easy on yourself. You may not be winning medals, but the work and support provided by carers is invaluable.
There is help out there. Look after yourself and remember, this not only helps you but also helps the person you care for.
How we can help
If you'd like more specific advice for your own situation or guidance on the local support services that are available for you, make an appointment with one of our Grace Care Advisers. We provide a listening ear and help you find the support you need.
Grace Consulting are the UK’s founding providers of expert independent advice on elderly care advice, special needs advice and neurodiversity advice. Independence and client wellbeing are at the heart of everything we do. We listen, reassure and advise you on how to move forwards and find the best possible solutions for your unique life challenges.