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Carer Issues

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Caring for older relatives in the UK

Being a carer for a disabled or older person can be a stressful business. Ideally it should be tackled with patience, humour and love but being responsible for someone's quality of life, comfort and hygiene is not a duty to be taken lightly. If allowed to, the mental stresses can wreak havoc before the physical demands of the task are taken into account, especially since the person in need of care is usually a relative or loved one, for whom only the best care is desired. On the brighter side, there can be enormous satisfaction in a job well done, for the welfare of someone special.

Be Prepared For These Problems

Each person in need of care will have different needs: from physical help dressing, eating and using the bathroom to patience with legal and administrative matters. Learning how to help the vulnerable person on the job can result in enormous mental stress, while physical tasks can result in injury if not performed correctly.
Financial problems
These are often an effect of being a carer. Government allowances for carers have, in recent years, been reduced, leaving many carers and their patients struggling to make ends meet. This is particularly unfortunate as often carers cannot work, as their patient cannot be left on their own for hours at a time. There are some work-at-home jobs, but even these usually require dedicated time without interruption. There are day centres and nursing homes, but these are often very expensive and would make a nonsense of working, demanding more in fees than the carer could otherwise earn.
Patients' personal issues
Whilst initially these may be easily dealt with, they can worsen over time, particularly in the case of degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease and dementia. This means that the burden of caring, at first manageable, can become more difficult and all-consuming. Declines in health can never be predicted so it is hard to draw a line between 'able to cope' and 'no longer coping'.
Your own wellbeing
Being a carer, even part-time, may mean that there is little freedom for holidays, hobbies and general relaxation – there is always the possibility of a health crisis or other emergency arising. Other duties, to younger family members or spouses, can often take second seat, putting a strain on family and marital relationships. A source of guilt with non-medically trained carers could arise if they do not notice a decline in their patient's condition, especially if it happens slowly, over time. Suddenly becoming aware of frailty or medical issues can be a source of guilt, usually exacerbated by a low-level resentment which it would be inhuman not to feel on occasion.
The remedy
It is vital that you arrange some 'me' time, preferably on a regular basis. If you can find someone else who is sensible and trustworthy, who can 'sit-in' for a day, or even a few hours, each week can make a huge difference to your own health and happiness. It is also important that you don't spend this time just doing other work; it is a time for leisure, pleasure and re-charging your own batteries. If you don't have another relative who could help, perhaps you could co-operate with other carers locally, so that you have a rota? The staff at your doctor's surgery, care visitors, or your local citizens' advice bureau may be able to suggest ways of arranging this. If you employ a carer privately, make sure you take references; a good one is worth his/her weight in gold, a poor one is worse than useless. There are agencies which can provide helpers for periods of an hour or so upwards, with a ball-park cost of around £18 an hour, although this can vary considerably. Check on how long the carers have worked for the agency; a high turnover of staff may suggest that you should look elsewhere.

Problems specific to aging carers

Carers who are elderly themselves are in an even more difficult situation. As they grow older, they might fall ill or become weaker themselves, perhaps even getting to a stage where they need a carer themselves. In extreme cases, an elderly person trying to care for a disabled or even more elderly patient could result in poor quality of life and complications for both parties. With better general medical care and nutrition, people are living longer and therefore care for the elderly is a growing need. This means that it's important to be realistic and consider the possibility of entrusting your patient to a care home. There is funding available for this through local government sources, although at the time of writing there is some uncertainty about just how it will work out. It is very important, though, to vet any prospective care homes thoroughly. Visit them, talk to the staff, talk to the guests. Some care homes are very, very good, but some less so. If you can afford to pay privately, they are not cheap; £3,000 to £5,000 a month should cover general care, with extra costs for patients with more complex needs.

How to get help

Any older carer who is beginning to feel overwhelmed by the needs of their patient should make time to investigate the options available. There are a number of government enterprises designed to aid the elderly and disabled to live more independent lives – these can include the supply of mobility aids, home helps and even funding to assist access to activities and excursions. There are also a number of charities that work to improve the quality of life for both elderly patients and their carers, including taking into account the physical and mental health of the carers. Getting in contact with these organisation can result in financial assistance towards a home visitor, respite care to give the carer some downtime with peace of mind, assistance with accessing grants and equipment, such as hoists, to safely lift less mobile people, without risking injury to either the patient or carer. Age UK or your local citizen's advice bureau would be well worth contacting for advice. Sometimes just being able to talk to someone aware of and sympathetic to the problems faced by carers can be a great help, giving moral support and providing an outlet for frustration or anxiety.
Going back to school
There are courses that can be attended that will help with best practises for caring. These can include simple advice on how best to maintain health and hygiene in the most effective and dignified manner. First aid courses and classes on how to perform small medical processes: correctly changing dressings, changing catheters and/ or colostomy bags, and administering bed baths can greatly boost the confidence and skills of a carer, especially best practices when lifting and moving patients without suffering injury or strain.

In conclusion

Whilst being a carer can be stressful and demanding, there are departments and charities that can help even those who are elderly or in poor health themselves to look after their loved ones safely, with good quality of life all round. To discover what is available you may find the following sites useful:
1) myagingparent.com
2) Age UK
3) Carers UK

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