Becoming a carer – things to think about

Head of Research and Clinical Development at Bupa UK
05 May 2017

As a population we’re living longer. For many of us, this means we’re faced with a very important question – should I take on caring responsibilities for an older relative or loved one? If you’re thinking of taking on this responsibility, there are certain things you’ll need to consider. Here I outline a few to help you make the right decision for both you and your loved one.

Older man smiling

Becoming a carer isn’t always on everyone’s agenda. Your loved ones health might deteriorate unexpectedly and the need to provide care can come as quite a shock. Regardless of the situation, if you find yourself in this position, the most important thing you can do is plan. Being prepared for this next stage can help you make the right decisions for you and your loved one. Here are some things to think about.

Your support network: friends, family and community

Getting help from the people closest to you and those in your community can be a great support if you’re a carer. Write a list of family, friends and neighbours that might be able to help. Have a chat with them to get their thoughts. Do they have the time and willingness to give you the support you might need?

It’s also worth thinking about the help you can get from your wider community. Carers week is a national awareness week aimed at recognising and celebrating the UK’s unpaid carers. Their most recent theme: building carer friendly communities. Their work highlights the challenges carers face in their community and celebrates where communities have got it right. From their work, we’ve highlighted a few things to consider.

  • Talk to your GP. As a carer, your GP will play an important role in helping you maintain your own health and wellbeing. Making them aware of the role you’ll be taking on gives them the opportunity to help you where they can in future.
  • Check out your local shops and facilities. Are they accessible? Do they have the necessary handrails, ramps or toilet facilities you might need. Is there a local convenience store that might deliver essentials – for example, bread and milk – if needed.
  • Visit your local pharmacy to see if they offer a delivery service for any medicines you or your loved one might need.
  • Check out your local leisure and exercise facilities. Do they offer any carer discounts that you could take advantage of?

Your wellbeing

Being a carer can be truly rewarding, but like many things, it comes with its ups and downs. Looking after your own wellbeing, both mental and physical, while caring for your loved, can be a challenge. But as a carer, it’s of utmost importance.

Think about how you’ll stay connected to people. Maintaining your social networks as a carer is really important for your wellbeing. You might find it helps to speak to people who are in the same situation as you. Carers UK have an online forum with a community of carers that you can chat to day or night.

Tina Gwynne-Evans from the Bupa UK Foundation, which has recently awarded over £250,000 to projects supporting carers’ health and wellbeing, says: “as well as getting support from family and friends – who may be limited in the time and support they are able to give – there are many local organisations that can provide carers with advice, support and a listening ear.”

Charities such as Carers UK and Carers Trust are a great source of support and information. Both can help you to find support in your local area.

There are also more formal avenues set out by the government to help protect your wellbeing, such as the carer’s assessment.

If you take on caring responsibilities for a loved one, you’ll be entitled to a carer’s assessment. This will be carried out by your local authority. The assessment has two aims.

  1. To identify what you’ll need in order to care for your loved one.
  2. To identify your needs as an individual – this might include breaks from your role as a carer or the chance to pursue your outside interests.

After the assessment, your local authority has a responsibility to help you meet these needs, if you’re eligible.

You can find out more about the carer’s assessment on the Carers UK – carer’s assessment page.

Work commitments and income

In the UK, the main source of income for over half of all un-paid carers is from employment. Around four in every 10 carers work full-time and two in every 10 work part-time. If you’re considering taking on caring responsibilities, it’s important to consider your work and income needs.

Caring for a loved one can be very involved and you might need to give up work completely or reduce your working hours and days. This will affect your income, so it’s important to give this some consideration. You’ll need to think about your own expenses and the potential costs of caring for your loved one. Do you have a mortgage that needs paying? Do you have dependents, children or grandchildren that rely on you as a source of income?

Take time to also think about, and plan for, some of the less apparent costs of caring.

  • Attending appointments. Consider your need to take regular taxis or car parking expenses.
  • Utilities. Your loved one might need the heating on higher or for longer periods of time during the winter months. They might also need to be kept cool in the summer. You might need to do more washing and cooking, which combined, can mean footing higher utility bills.
  • Getting help. Everyone needs support from time to time – and that’s OK. You might need someone to take over your caring responsibilities while you go to work, or when you need some time to yourself. Will you need to buy in this care? If so, what’s the cost?

Knowing where to get the information and support you need is important. Speak to your personnel or HR department to discuss which options are available to you at work. You might also be able to claim financial support, such as carer’s allowance, from your local authority. You can find out more about this on the government website – GOV.UK – Carer’s allowance. Carers UK and Carers Trust also both have pages on carer’s allowance.

Becoming a carer for a loved one can be a fulfilling and positive experience. The dedication and commitment made by carers is truly admirable. For some, the decision to take on this commitment has brought them closer to their loved ones, including friends, family and those in their care. But when deciding to take on this role, it’s important to consider any potential challenges ahead. As a carer, your role is ever changing and your ability to adapt to this will be paramount.

Paul Edwards
Head of Research and Clinical Development at Bupa UK

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