If you’re feeling sandwiched between caring for your children as well as helping to meet the needs of an elderly loved one with chronic illness or disability – you’re not alone. According to Carers UK, there are currently c.2.4million people in the UK in the same position1.
How to help the growing number of people who find themselves in this position has been under discussion for some time. In 2008, the National Carers Strategy, signed by then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, set out a vision that by 2018: “Carers will be universally recognised and valued as being fundamental to strong families and stable communities. Support will be tailored to meet individuals’ needs, enabling carers to maintain a balance between their caring responsibilities and a life outside caring, while enabling the person they support to be a full and equal citizen2.”
There is no question that carers are vital and valued – but are they given the tailored support that they need? We’re not sure. In some circumstances people feel forced to give up work or torn between supporting their children and their elderly relatives which can in turn impact on their own sense of wellbeing. If you’re finding yourself sandwiched and unsure of where to turn, we’ve put together a short guide that we hope will help you feel better equipped to cope.
1. Check your entitlements
In some circumstances, you may be eligible for Carer’s Allowance. This is a means tested benefit which pays £64.40 per week if you care for someone for at least 35 hours a week and they get certain benefits. To check your eligibility, visit: www.gov.uk/carers-allowance/eligibility
If you are not eligible for Carer’s Allowance, you may qualify for Carer’s Credit. This is a National Insurance credit that’s payable if you’re caring for someone for at least 20 hours per week. You can find out more here: www.gov.uk/carers-credit
Carers UK has an excellent set of resources that will help to guide you through the various benefits that you may be able to apply for: www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/financial-support/help-with-benefits/other-working-age-benefits
2. Ask for help
When you have the dual commitments of children and elderly relatives to care for, it is easy to go into ‘autopilot’ mode – taking yourself from one task to the next. Over extended periods of time this can have a detrimental impact on your own health, so it’s important to reach out and ask for help if you need it. Even small requests can make a difference including:
- Asking friends if they can take your child(ren) on a play date after school
- Asking a relative if they could collect a prescription
- Asking a neighbour to keep an eye out on your relative’s home when you’re not there
- Asking visiting family if they’ll make the tea – as glib as this sounds many carers find accommodating visitors can bring additional stress. Asking them to help out with a very small task makes them feel useful and gives you one less thing to do.
If you feel that your mental health is suffering, talk to your GP honestly and early. Mind has a useful resource here that provides information on how to look after yourself and how to seek help. www.mind.org.uk/media/6055273/how-to-cope-when-supporting-someone-else-2017.pdf
During our research, we discovered an interesting course that may appeal to you if you’d like to feel more in control of the care that you provide. Deakin University in Australia developed ‘Caring for Older People: A Partnership Model’ as a free resource that examines caring from the viewpoint of both the person receiving care and the caregiver. Leading you through a series of exercises, the course concludes with the creation of your own care plan. You can find out more here: www.futurelearn.com/courses/older-people
3. Talk to others
It can be difficult to maintain a social life when you’re busy caring for others as well as trying to meet family commitments – you may feel that you don’t want to ‘burden’ anybody with your worries. In instances like this, it’s important to find ways to meet with and talk to people who can understand what you’re going through – whether in person or online.
Your local GP surgery will be able to provide / connect you with information on local carers groups.
Larger support organisations are listed, by county, here: www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/get-support/local-support
Carers UK has a Facebook page that posts frequent updates and offers carers the opportunity to ask questions / provide support to one another: www.facebook.com/carersuk/
4. Give yourself a break
To be able to give to others, it’s important to take some time out for yourself. Whether it’s starting the day with twenty minutes of meditation, or simply sitting in front of the television with a cup of tea, spending some time refuelling your own energy reserves should be high on any carer’s priority list.
Carers Trust has a good online resource that discusses options that you might like to consider ranging from befriending and sitting services through to respite care and personal care assistants. www.carers.org/article/getting-break
It may also be that there are certain tasks that you could use a break from – if you’re already managing a full household’s worth of laundry and cleaning every week, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to not feel like cleaning another relative’s home. Alternatively, if your relative requires specialist help with medication or they need lifting, you may lack confidence which makes you feel stressed. In both instances, bringing in help for those tasks could make a material difference to both you and the person you’re caring for. Our website has a list of tasks that could help you to prioritise where you need help: www.helpd.co.uk/services/.
5. Plan for the future
It’s extremely important to acknowledge that care needs can change over time – if your relative has a degenerative or terminal illness, the initial care that you give may not meet their needs in the longer term. In these instances, it is worth researching the next stage of care options early so that you can make a well-informed decision that allows you to agree together what the next steps will be.
At Helpd, we provide a dedicated online introductory service that puts you in control of care – from single services like washing and dressing to full-time live-in care and companionship. To find out more about what we do, visit www.helpd.co.uk
If you enjoyed this blog post, why not read another: Guide to Mental Health for Carers