5 Steps to Finding the Support You Need as a Carer

Helping an elderly relative can take its toll on all aspects of your life, says Sam Smethers. But preparing and asking others for support can make a world of difference Caring for a family member, regardless of age, can bring with it a fair share of guilt, and some people feel they are neglecting their partner, children, and their friends when they become a carer for an elder relative. Wcat can be done to alleviate these feelings and help the carer balance their work and family life?

A New, Responsible, Generation

Grandparents are increasingly not the oldest in their families. Many are caring up and down the generations. Kinship (formerly Grandparents Plus) runs a peer support network for grandparents and family carers who are raising children who can't live with their parents. Three in 10 are also caring for an older relative or partner.

This is a generation under huge pressure to care, and it's growing. Guilt can arise when there is a tension or conflict between what you want to do and what you feel you have to do. We all have times when we know we are not giving our partner, children, family or other friends the time and attention they need. We all juggle competing demands and pressures.

For those who are caring for another, it can simply be the case that they can do nothing else. The person they care for is someone they love and who needs their help. The care they provide may be the only thing that keeps them out of hospital or keeps them alive.

So the pressure is on. Here are our 5 steps to finding the support you need.

Knowing Your Role

The first thing to do in this situation is to recognise what is happening and why. If you are the carer it's important to understand that you are not superhuman. Caring for an adult relative is exhausting, time consuming and a labour of love, which is relentless. Many carers find that their own health suffers as a result of the caring role they play.

So the first thing to say is to recognise the nature of the task you are performing. Be kind to yourself, understand why you are under such pressure and be realistic about what is possible in that situation.

Silence Isn't Always Golden

Secondly, communicate. Help those around you to understand it too. Discuss it as a family. Don't assume that others must know or understand what it's like because almost certainly they don't.

One way they can build their understanding is to help to provide some of the care themselves.

Friends and family can step in to give you a break. Even a couple of hours to go to the shops, have a sleep or go for a walk can make the rest of the day - or week - seem manageable. After all, the most effective way to learn something is to perform the task. So involve them if only to enable them to understand what it's like to be you.

My husband and I sometimes help to care for his aunt who has advanced MS (Multiple Sclerosis). Each time we go it is a very sobering reminder of what it is like to be her carer. But we also enjoy spending time with her and helping her partner. It makes us feel useful. Those around you may welcome the chance to feel useful too.

Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail

Thirdly, having some kind of paid help or support or adaptations in your home can also make the caring task more manageable. The quality of paid care can vary hugely, and sometimes it may seem more trouble than it's worth.

But recognising when you need help and telling yourself it's OK to ask for it is important, as this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to keep going.

Caring for yourself, a bit like the instruction to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others, is vital not only for you but for the person you care for.

Diet and exercise are also important. Being a carer is extremely physically and mentally demanding. If you were preparing to run a marathon you would think about your diet? Your exercise regime? You need to do the same as a carer!

Find Your Work-Life Balance

If you are working, and caring, it can feel extremely stressful. You have a right to request flexible working, but you may feel hesitant about opening up about your needs. Remember, a good employer will want to retain your skills and experience at work and will do what they can to help you! Ask if your organisation offers carers' leave, or other supports, and find out if others at work are in a similar situation - maybe there's a carers' network you can join.

And Breathe...

Finally, remember that time for yourself isn't selfish. It will enable you to be a better carer and to keep caring for longer. Understand what will help you to keep going, prioritise that and set aside something in the week that is just for you.

Sam Smethers, Consultant and Former Chief Executive, Kinship (formerly Grandparents Plus)