Many millions of people across the world care for relatives and friends who have long-term health needs. They are doing an amazing job, and without them, their loved ones’ lives would be far harder. If you care for someone, you probably do so gladly, because you love the person concerned and you feel a responsibility towards them. There are many positive aspects to being a carer, but it is also hard work, and you may not get a break unless there is someone else to help you out.
What do carers do?
People are sometimes surprised to hear themselves described as carers because they see what they are doing as just a natural part of the responsibility of looking after family members. The line between caring and becoming a carer is crossed when you are responsible for looking after an adult who is unable to look after themselves in one or several respects. You could have a grown child with severe learning difficulties who can’t live on their own. You might be looking after a spouse who has been paralyzed in an accident or caring for an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s disease. These are all examples of being a carer, rather than caring for somebody when they are recovering from an illness. Carers don’t usually expect their charges to recover, or at least not fully. They will always need a level of care, and in many cases, this is likely to increase as they get older.
Recognizing that you need to look after yourself too
While your focus is on caring for someone else, it can be hard to find the time and energy to look after yourself. If you have someone who is reliant on you for their basic needs, how do you go out for the day or the evening? Many carers find they have little time to have the life they would have wished for themselves, and it’s hard to combine a career with a full-time caring role. Carers can often feel guilty about leaving their charges, even for a short time, as though they are abandoning them. It’s much like the feeling parents get when they leave their kids with a babysitter. What you need to realize though, is that you have a duty of care to yourself too and that neglecting your own needs will make you unhappy and very probably ill yourself. If you aren’t able to care for your loved one because you’ve become ill yourself, that is a far worse situation to be in, so be sensible and don’t feel selfish about thinking of yourself.
Finding people who understand
Having good friends to share with is an important emotional support tool for carers, as being able to talk to someone outside your situation can be very restorative. A change of scenery, a chat, and a giggle with someone special will give your spirit a boost. There are also many charities, forums and online support groups that you can connect with, and the people involved will be able to understand what caring involves, both the joyful times and the hard times. They are an excellent source of advice and emotional support, so you don’t need to feel you are alone. Organizations such as Seasons Care, run memory loss support groups to help patients, carers, and their families to cope with the effects of dementia. You will be able to share your experiences with some lovely, supportive people, and you may meet some people who become close friends.
How can you manage time off?
The first port of call should be your local social services. A lot of the time carers don’t realize they are entitled to some form of help, whether that’s respite care, additional carers calling in, or benefits to help you pay for extra care. Make contact with the advisors at the service and see if there is anything you can get help with. The next people to try are charities and support organizations. Many have programs to help carers get a break, and they will be able to advise you on how best to cope with your situation. They can also be an invaluable source of practical advice. You could arrange for respite care, which enables you to have a complete break from your caring role for a few days while your charge is looked after in a professional setting. This can work well if they are happy to stay away from home every so often, but if they don’t understand what’s happening, or find it hard to cope with, bringing carers in may be a better option.
Other friends and family members
If there are other members of the family reasonably close, or family friends and neighbors who would be able to help, don’t be afraid to ask them if they could give you a break now and then. You might feel that you don’t want to bother them, especially if you know they have a lot of responsibilities already. But most people will be happy to help out now and then if they can, and the more people you have to call on the easier you’ll find it to get time for yourself, and the less frequently you would need to ask any particular individual.
Considering care facilities
It might be something you don’t want to contemplate, but at some point, you may have to consider moving your loved one into a care facility. To put your mind at rest, check out residential care close to where you live, and you’ll see that many places have the highest standards of care and outstanding facilities. You’ll be able to have a tour of the facility and ask any questions about how your loved one will be cared for, and so find the most suitable place. It’s far better for the person you care for to move into a specialist facility if you are struggling to cope, as you will both be better off. You’ll still be able to visit and spend time with them, and if you’re in a position where it seems like the best choice, you’re probably making the right decision.
You are doing a truly wonderful thing in being a carer, but don’t forget that you deserve the best in life just as much as anyone else.