In their 2018 survey, Carers UK found that:
- 72% of carers in the UK report that their mental health had suffered as a result of caring
- 61% reported that their physical health had worsened as a result of caring
- 74% of carers feel their role isn't understood or valued in their community
- Not being able to talk to friends or family about caring leaves one in three carers feeling socially isolated
Research like this demonstrates the real impact caring can have on someone's wellbeing.
As the friend or loved one of a carer, it's natural to want to help and support them. And there are things you can do both practically and emotionally that can make things a little easier.
Helping out with routine everyday tasks can save the person you're supporting time and energy. However, it's important to offer your help, rather than jumping straight in without asking, as this could make someone feel as though they're losing control of their routine. And that can be more stressful than having lots to do.
Try to identify specific tasks you could help with, rather than asking a general question. For example, you could suggest that you walk the dog or do the shopping, rather than asking "Is there anything I can do?" To identify where you might be able to make a difference, make a list of everything that needs doing, prioritise what they really need help with and begin there. You could also do some research into any conditions the person they're caring for has, so you have a better understanding of where they might need extra support.
It's also important to be sensitive to the fact that some people may prefer not to accept help. Keeping busy can be an important coping strategy. If that's the case, respect their wishes and try not to insist. But don't be afraid to offer support again in the future. Sometimes just knowing that someone is concerned and offering help and support is as valuable as the help itself. They may be more able to accept support from you at a later stage.
Here are some ideas for practical tasks you could offer to help with:
- Making a meal
- Doing the washing up
- Driving to hospital or medical appointments
- Helping to look after their children and pets
- Doing the laundry
- Doing the shopping
- Watering plants
- Mowing the lawn
- Looking things up online
- Cleaning and vacuuming
- Helping with paperwork, posting forms and applications
- Offering backup support
- Helping them make a budget
- Helping them research other forms of support including respite care
- Researching training opportunities
Being a carer can be emotionally and physically demanding. Carers report feeling worried, upset, angry and guilty. And they may also be dealing with things they've never faced before, such as applying for benefits or accessing health services. Being able to talk to someone about all of this is vital. That's why one of the most important things you can do to support a carer is give them the time and space to talk, and simply listen.
These conversations can be challenging, especially if the person you're supporting doesn't really see themselves as a carer. But talking openly with someone they trust could be the first step towards accessing the support they need. Here are a few tips that could help get the conversation started.
- Try to take a non-direct approach. Rather than focusing on their specific circumstances, start by saying things like, "Many people in your situation. . ." or "Some people caring for a loved one find support by. . ." If you have them, anecdotes about someone known to them in a similar situation can help open up the discussion
- Acknowledge that they may find the conversation uncomfortable by saying something like, "I'd love to talk to you about ... initially you might think it seems silly. Please don't be offended . . ."
- People sometimes worry that they're boring others when they talk, or that they're a burden, so make it clear to them that that's not the case. You could say something like: "It doesn't matter if you've told me things before. If it helps you to talk, I'm here to listen"
- Set aside time specifically to talk. Often people feel more comfortable and ready to talk if they know they're not keeping you from something
- You don't have to jump straight in at the deep end. Talking about lighter topics first can help people to relax and feel less anxious about opening up
Not everyone feels comfortable talking to friends and family and that's OK too. If that's the case, you could suggest that they take a look around CABA's carer support site to find out more about the confidential, professional counselling we can provide.
Staying in touch
Carers often have less time available to socialise with friends and family. Some may be unable to leave the house regularly due to their caring responsibilities. In addition, carers on a reduced income may struggle to find the money for social and leisure activities. But just like everybody else, carers still need to know they're valued, included and not left behind. Here are some things you can do to help them stay connected to their social circle.
- If appropriate, visit them. But ask first! Don't just turn up unannounced, as this may cause someone to feel uncomfortable if they're not prepared for your visit
- Provide refreshments. Whether you visit them or they visit you, make it your responsibility to provide food and drink to help take the pressure off
- If appropriate, suggest days out that could include the person they care for. Two pairs of hands can make a day out and about easier. Alternatively, they may prefer a break away from their caring responsibilities. In this case, you could help them to arrange suitable respite care for the day
- Offer to exercise with them. If their responsibilities allow, go with them to the gym or for a swim. If not, encourage them to try one of our options for exercise in the home, a home workout or yoga. Exercise can help both body and mind, even more so when you can do it with a friend or loved one.
Being a carer is challenging, but the right support from friends and family can make things a little easier. For more advice and information on ways to support someone who is a carer, visit cabacare.org.uk