From sausages to sunflowers there’s now a week for celebrating everything. However, few will touch as many lives as Carers’ Week, which this year runs from June 10 to 16.
Around seven million people in the UK are carers. One in ten people in East Sussex are carers. This mean if you are not a carer yourself, you’re certain to know someone who is looking after an ill, disabled or elderly partner, child, relative, friend or neighbour.
However, many carers say they feel isolated and overlooked and don’t know where to turn for practical and financial support.
Looking after someone, giving them a better quality of life than they’d otherwise have, can be immensely rewarding.
Carers not only save the NHS an estimated £57 billion a year, they make the world a better and kinder place for us all.
This Carers Week, author Jane Matthews who wrote The Carer’s Handbook is offering tips on how to support carers.
Jane said, “I wrote to try and give others the kind of practical help and emotional support I wish someone had given me when I first started caring for my mum and uncle.
“I’d spent most of my life working as a journalist, and just wasn’t prepared for how isolated and helpless you can feel as a carer.”
Here are Jane’s top tips:
•Seeking help as a carer
“Learn to say yes to every offer of help. Your friends and family may not be able to use a bed hoist - but they could cook you a meal, do your shopping or gardening, read to your loved one or take them for a drive – anything that frees up a slice of time for you.
“Draw up a list of such small tasks so you’re never tempted to say “I can cope thank you,” when someone asks if they can help.
“Connect with other carers for practical and emotional support. It may feel like it but you’re not alone.
“Carers UK www.carersuk.org and Carers Trust www.carers.org are mines of brilliant information, and will also tell you if there is a support group nearby.
“Whatever you’re facing, someone else will have been there before you and have advice and sympathy.
“Pursue every possible source of respite.
“Whether your caring role takes up a few hours or is 24-7, you are entitled to a carer’s assessment from your local social services department.
“The assessment sets out what your support needs are, how they’ll be met and who will do what. Crucially, the law says the assessment should look at your whole life needs – work, learning, family, leisure.
“If you’re also juggling a job with caring, consider whether flexible working would help you manage better. Employment law means your organisation must respond to your need for flexibility if practical, and you have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.
“You could compress your day, taking shorter breaks, or start and finish earlier; extend your day with a long break in the middle to accommodate carer time; or explore with your employer the practicalities of joining the growing army of remote workers.
“Don’t neglect your own physical and emotional health. A good diet and exercise – even if all you can manage is half an hour’s yoga or dance video – will give you more, not less, energy for caring. And don’t beat yourself up if you sometimes experience anger, resentment and other difficult feelings about your caring role: bad feelings don’t make you a bad person; they mean you’re in a bad situation.
“Remember, whatever you are able to do is enough. You should treat yourself with the same gentleness and understanding you would another carer.”
•And if you have a family or friend who is a carer, here’s how you can support them:
Jane said, “Always start by asking how they are, rather than about the person they’re caring for.
“Then ask how you can help. It’s fine to be honest about how much or little time you have available. But even small acts of kindness can make a big difference: cleaning the car, cooking an extra portion of dinner to put in the freezer for days when there’s no time, helping with gardening or housework, arranging a night out or taking the kids out so they can have time home alone.
“Think about ways in which you could occasionally give carers a couple of precious hours of respite by offering to spend some time with the person they’re caring for in their place: come and read from a book or newspaper, bring a pet to visit, take them for a drive out from time to time. Time out for themselves, however brief, is probably the thing carers crave the most.
“Be willing to listen. Most conversations are people waiting to say their bit. Carers so often feel invisible to the rest of the world that having someone make the time to listen while they download can be invaluable.
“Make the effort to stay in touch, even if you don’t hear from them. For many carers, life is a frantic juggling act running from one responsibility to another. They will really appreciate you making the running, the calls and the messages rather than expecting them to.
“Lastly, recognise the contribution carers make.”