If you’re a typical carer, your needs usually come last. But that’s not good for you – or those you look after

How to care for carers

Did you know that carers need care too? ©iStock

One in 10 of us is a carer – that’s around 7 million of us, saving the UK an estimated £132 billion a year.

And 60% of us will act as unpaid carers at some time for relatives or friends who need support for physical or mental health problems, disabilities or addictions.

But caring can affect our own health, work, finances and relationships – even our ability to carry on – so it’s not selfish to look after ourselves, too.

Physical health

Carers often have poorer health. You may ignore symptoms because you’re too busy, or worried your health will stop you being a carer.

Simply finding time to go to the doctor, hospital or dentist, having no one to step in while you’re out, or feeling embarrassed to ask for help, can be difficult.

Physical problems, such as arthritis or fatigue, may make caring harder, and you may find yourself skipping routine health checks, such as blood pressure, cervical smears, or mammograms.

Mental health

Someone who has severe anxiety or dementia may constantly require your attention and reassurance, while severe depression or addiction problems can be hard to cope with.

You may feel constantly worried and/or frustrated, with no ‘head space’ for your own thoughts and activities; relatives may tell you what to do – or leave you to do it all.

And carers often have a reduced household income but increased expenses, so it’s no wonder that many feel isolated, anxious or depressed at times.

What you can do

Take a good look at yourself and your situation – ask a supportive relative or friend to help you, so you don’t fall into the trap of believing nothing can change.

List any problems (physical, emotional or financial) and think of all the possible solutions – including asking for help from other people. But if you can’t think of an acceptable or workable solution, ask for professional help instead.

If you have physical or mental health problems, you must see your GP – a preliminary telephone consultation may reduce the number of actual appointments needed to solve them.

Remind her that you are a carer (this should be on your records), and tell her if you feel you can’t cope any longer – you’ll be helping the person you care for, not letting them down.

If your list includes problems with money, services or support for either or both of you, including local support groups and respite care, social services can help.

Ask for a Carer’s Assessment from your local authority (this looks at your needs); you can also ask your employer about flexible working hours, and check you’re both getting all the benefits you’re entitled to – visit nhs.uk or call the Carers Direct helpline on 0300 123 1053.

Many organisations provide information, advice and support specifically for carers, including Carers UK (0808 808 7777), the Carers Trust (0844 800 4361), Age UK (0800 169 2081) and charities linked to specific conditions, such as the Alzheimer’s Society (0300 222 1122).

5 Ways to care for a carer

1 Phone or call in regularly for a chat and to keep them in touch.

2 Ask about their own interests and problems, as well as the person they
are caring for.

3 Encourage them to look after their own medical and social needs.

4 Offer to provide cover so they can have personal time for essential or recreational activities.

5 Offer help with practical tasks such as form-filling or contacting support organisations.