This article is mainly aimed at those who have chosen to care for someone at home, but some content may also apply to professional carers.
Tuesday 14th September 2021
Helping You Care – Caring for the Carers
When an older person you are close to comes to the point that they need to be cared for, you may be faced with the choice of caring for them at home or deciding whether care in a Nursing Home may be more appropriate.
The most common reasons for choosing the Nursing Home route are those that require specialist help such as dementia, falls and fractures, declining mobility, incontinence and UTIs. But some of these conditions may also be managed at home if you have the right knowledge, skills, resources and equipment to deal with them.
There are, of course, many factors to consider when making this decision and you may wish to take professional advice to find the right choice for both you and the person who needs care.
This article is mainly aimed at those who have chosen to care for someone at home, but some content may also apply to professional carers.
Helping You Care - Practical Advice
Caring for Someone at Home
Many adults who start to require care can be very embarrassed about the situation they find themselves in and can often feel isolated and alone. As a carer you can help them understand that there is support available and help improve their daily life by making them feel better.
There are some important general rules to follow when caring for someone.
- Respect the individual wishes of the person you are caring for. Everybody deals with problems in different ways.
- Let them know how common their problems are. This will help stop them feeling alone and isolated.
- Be sensitive to their feelings. For people who have always lived independently, having to accept help from others for basic help and care can be very difficult.
- Help maintain the person's dignity as far as you can.
- As much as possible, let the one you are caring for be in control, allowing them to make as many decisions as possible on their own.
- Avoid discussing their situation and details of their care with others.
- Try to find out as much as you can about their condition and associated problems as this will help you to achieve a better understanding of their needs. It might be useful to have a discussion with your loved one’s Healthcare professional to find out more.
Caring for basic continence problems
Continence management is very often the factor that sways the decision to enter a Nursing Home as both the carer and their loved ones can understandably find it difficult dealing with something that has been considered your private business ever since you were a small child. Whatever you decide there are some simple things you can do to help manage some basic continence issues.
The easier you can make the process of visiting the toilet, the easier it will be to avoid accidents, so taking these simple precautions can really help.
- Make sure that there is nothing, such as awkwardly placed furniture or doors that are hard to open, obstructing the way to the toilet
- Make sure the toilet is easy to use. Toileting aids such as handrails and raised seats are often helpful. If it becomes too difficult for the person to get to the toilet, an aid such as a commode may also be useful.
- Ensure clothing can be quickly removed and unfastened. Some people find Velcro fastenings easier to use than zips or buttons.
- Always keep a bin with a lid in both the bathroom and the bedroom so they can dispose of continence products in a safe and discrete manner.
Always be prepared when your loved one is away from home. When they are out and about, try to be aware at all times where the nearest toilet is and don’t worry about using disabled toilets - these will have more space for them to change in and often have disposal facilities. It would be helpful if they took a bag with them when they go out containing continence products, hand wipes and spare underwear just in case of an accident.
2. Helping You Care - Emotional Support
Coping with emotions
Understanding why a loved one needs care can help you to help them to start to feel better about themselves and to tackle their problems more positively. Here are four simple strategies to help your loved one cope with their emotions.
1. Confide in someone you trust
Many of the issues and conditions affecting older persons are not easily discussed so it is easy for your loved one to feel that they are the only person that has such a problem. Yet statistics show that they will almost certainly have friends or family with similar issues, and who probably think they are alone too. Those who confide in friends or family normally find that their problem is accepted in a sensitive, sympathetic and matter-of-fact way.
2. Take a look from a different point of view
It may be useful to turn that question around and ask them whether they would think less of any of their friends if they had a condition like dementia or a physical disability. Ask them to imagine that it is a friend or family member who has the problem instead. What would they do or say to help this person and would they actually think any less of them just because they were suffering? Seeing their situation through a different lens will help them understand what their friends and family are feeling.
3. A problem shared is a problem halved
People are often embarrassed to admit they gave a problem and may be tempted to keep it a secret. However, by doing so they may be cutting themselves off from the support of other members of their family and their friends who they could potentially call on if they have problems. For some people, keeping their problems a secret can become so important that they end up becoming a prisoner in their own homes, alienating themselves from those they love most and not receiving treatment that can help them.
4. Take control
Once they have decided who they need to tell, they will need to plan exactly what they are going to say. They should explain the nature of their problem, why it has happened and how it impacts their life. Remember, they are still entitled to their privacy – they don’t have to tell everybody everything.
Taking this approach can help to put them in control of their situation, rather than the situation being in control of them.
3. Helping You Care - Leading a normal life.
Going on a long journey or a holiday can be a major concern for your loved one if they have a condition or disability and the temptation is often for them to want to stay at home. They may be anxious about their journey and whether or not they can manage their issues in the same way on holiday as they do at home. However, you mustn’t let this put them off. It’s very important that they still get out and enjoy life, having a problem does not mean they have to stay at home. They are plenty of products they can buy to make their lives more comfortable.
Many people have health problems which affects their lifestyles. Having the courage to tell others will give other people the opportunity to help them and make their trip more enjoyable. And remember, the first time is the hardest, once your loved one has spoken up for the first time, they will find it easier to speak up in future.
Different countries have different rules and regulations so, if your loved one carries products like catheters, syringes and medicines it may useful to have a letter from a doctor explaining their use. This letter might also be used to explain their condition and help a local Healthcare professional if they need to visit one during their stay.
Juggling the demands of caring with the responsibilities of a career is a tough call. People often feel they are being pulled in two different directions and as many as 1 in 5 people with significant caring responsibilities end up giving up work.
Those who fall out of the employment market often pay a heavy price, adding the worries of financial hardship to the pressures of caring. Think very carefully before giving up your job and explore all the options for support before taking drastic action.
As a working carer, you are likely to need a range of support at different times, from access to a telephone to check on the person you care for, to holiday leave arrangements when dealing with someone coming out of hospital. Telling your employer about your caring role is not always an easy step and you might feel it depends on whether they are likely to be supportive. Try to find out by asking your colleagues, personnel officer or union representative first. There may be existing support that you are not aware of, or you may find that your employer is open to exploring ways to support you.
For most people, caring has a negative impact on your finance and you, or the person you care for, may well have to pay for the support you need. Your income can take a dramatic drop through giving up work or reducing your working hours and you may face extra costs, such as heating, fuel and laundry as a consequence of caring for a loved one.
You may be entitled to some form of free or part-funded support from the state or private health insurance. Make sure you explore all avenues and ask other carers for advice if possible.
4. Helping You Care -Looking After Yourself
Caring for a loved one can be extremely demanding and, at the same time, very rewarding. Because of this, carers often find that they focus so much time and energy on caring for others that they forget to look after themselves. If you care for yourself as well you will eventually find that caring for the one you love becomes more difficult and this will affect the level and quality of care you are able to provide. So don’t jeopardise your role as a carer by ignoring your own needs.
Don't do it alone
It might sometimes feel like you’re the only one in this situation but the experience of looking after a family member, partner or friend is very common. For example, in the UK & Ireland it is estimated that one in every eight adults is a carer and it’s a role that most people will take on at some point in their lives.
In the beginning, caring can be bewildering, confusing, and demanding so all carers need some support and back-up. One of the most important things to accept is that you cannot do this all by yourself without serious risks to your health and well-being.
Family and friends
Many carers turn to family and friends for support and to help get a break from caring. In lots of cases this works out well and caring is shared. However, if you find that family and friends are not helping as much as you’d like, then you should not try to hide the extent of your caring role from them.
Many carers don’t want people to think they aren’t coping so they cover up how hard it really is. Your family and friends simply may not realise the level of care you are providing and the impact it’s having on you. They may find it hard to ask you if you need any help or may not want you to think they are interfering. They may be reluctant to offer help in case you get the wrong end of the stick and think they are saying you can't cope – so don’t be afraid to ask for help as soon as you need it.
Many carers find they become increasingly isolated. Friends and family don’t come round to visit as often as they once did, invitations stop arriving and gradually your social life can decline. There may be many reasons for this but, sadly, some people just don't know how to react to illness or disability and they find it awkward to deal with.
Even if you find you are isolated and caring alone, there are many Carers Support groups you could connect with to get some advice and practical help.
Get some practical help
Most people would benefit from practical support to help with caring for a loved one. This could be in the form of equipment to help you lift the person you care for, the provision of someone to sit with the person you care for if you need to go out or a holiday from caring where your loved one goes into residential care.
Paying for this sort of help can be expensive so you should shop around and get good advice. There are a variety of organisations and companies that can advise on buying equipment like hoists, wheelchairs and other disability aids. When it comes to having someone coming into your home to carry our care there is clearly the need to have someone you trust. Some people organise replacement care informally from friends and family or they buy in the help they need from a reputable commercial care agency.
Look after your own health
There is no doubt that, without the right support, caring can all too easily damage your own health so you will need to find the balance between caring and looking after your own health needs. It is not an easy balance to find but remember, the better your own physical and emotional wellbeing, the better you will be able to cope with the demands of caring. If you only do three things make sure you:
1. Tell your Doctor
Make sure you tell your Doctor that you are a carer and ask them to record the details on your file. If they know you are an active Carer, some Doctors will offer special flexibility with appointments or are more willing to make home visits. Carers are usually very busy people and sometimes don't find time to look after their own health. A good Doctor who understands carers can be a gateway to getting all kinds of help, such as counselling and access to other medical services.
2. Watch your stress levels
Stress is a fact of life for most carers and there are usually very few opportunities for relaxation but beware, not being able to relax from time-to-time can have a long-term detrimental effect on your health. It is vital that you learn to recognise the signs of stress and take appropriate action.
3. Watch your back
You may find that lifting the person you care for, helping them dress or move around places a strain on your back. Whilst there are products available such as hoists, mobility aids, bathroom and toiletings aids and rise and recline chairs that can help, it may be impossible to avoid lifting and handling the person you care for, but you can get advice and guidelines that may reduce the risk of injury.
Feeling Positively Good
As a carer you work really hard but how often do you think about all the good you do? It’s all too easy to get caught up in the daily routine of caring and fall into a negative state of mind but that’s not really going to help either you or the one you are caring for. Here’s 10 practical tips for things you can do to help you feel more positive and remember, different things work for different people so why not try a few to see what works for you.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Everyone has bad days.
- Speak to people who make you feel positive. This could be family, friends or work colleagues.
- Make a list of the things you’re grateful for.
- Take one thing at a time and just breathe.
- Get enough sleep at night. Sleep deprivation is a well-known cause of depression and being tired does nothing for your mood.
- Do something just for yourself. Whether it’s a long soak in a warm bath or walk in the countryside taking a little time out for yourself can make a lot of difference.
- Remember that you are not only a carer; there is more to you than that.
- If possible, some form of exercise really helps to lift your mood. Try running, swimming, Pilates or gardening, whatever works for you.
- Organise your problems, if its tomorrow’s problem then worry about it tomorrow.
- Remember, you are not alone.