What does being a carer entail for you?

Are you a carer of a loved one, who is older, disabled or seriously ill?  Whether you provide a few hours of support a week, or provide continuous care, you are one of the 6.5 million carers in the UK. This number is set to rise to over 9 million by 2036.

But what does being a carer mean for you?

Caring for someone can mean different things to different people. It can simply mean making sure they have a bit of shopping in the cupboards and have a nice cup of tea in the mornings, whereas other older people have much more complex care requirements.  Over half of carers provide care for someone with a physical disability, with a fifth providing support for someone with a sensory impairment. The needs of the older person for whom you are caring may mean it is necessary for you to have in-depth knowledge of their health; diagnoses, medication, treatment plans and awareness of all their appointments. In addition to that, you may have to help them administer treatment and medication at home.

Helping with medication

Care for others can involve practical help with medication, from simple reminders to take medication, to helping to administer the medication to the person you are looking after.  This element of caring for someone is relatively common and varies in its relative level of responsibility. You might collect prescriptions and medication from the pharmacy, or order repeats for a relative; you may have responsibility for them taking their prescribed medication and helping to administer it. For the more complex care needs, you may assist with transport to and from hospital. If the person you are caring for is unable to do so themselves, you may also be the person who keeps a full record of all medication taken, when and why, and be the ‘go to’ person when it comes to communicating this back to health care professionals at check-ups and appointments.

Older people often have co-existing illnesses and need an array of services and treatments, which means that carers need to co-ordinate and communicate on behalf of their loved one with healthcare professionals and social services, amongst others.  This can be very challenging. Multiple hospital admissions and various medication, treatments and changes mean that carers are often in the position of carrying to and from hospital the various medications and treatments their charge is taking, as well as having to recall all allergy and medical condition information for them.

So being a carer can be a bit of an administrative nightmare, dealing with various receptionists at clinics and GPs to communicate any changes and coping with reams of information, from test results to discharge letters and appointment reminders, pieces of  paper that are often out of date the moment you receive them.

These challenges may well all sound familiar to a well-seasoned carer, but there are other challenges which aren’t always prioritised, often for all the right altruistic reasons.

How can you help yourself to manage as a carer?

Technology can help

In this digital age, it’s easy to pass off not getting up to speed as a consequence of age or circumstances, but with more apps and technologies like smartphones and tablets becoming more accessible than ever, there are fewer barriers than ever to engaging with it. Sharing information has become a much easier task today with the help of apps and technology, and with sufferers of multiple and complex conditions, it is increasingly vital for information about the person’s care, treatment and medication to be available to all care professionals involved in their care journey.

A survey in 2012 found that the benefit to carers from new technology enabled care and support is considerable. There are mobile apps and technologies to help with various tasks or elements of caring; from automating reminders for medications, recording and monitoring general health and fitness indicators (such as weight, blood pressure, temperature and blood glucose – the sorts of things a carer might already measure at home),and for connecting with healthcare professionals remotely. In many cases, remote monitoring can give peace of mind to carers, and enable them to return to work, or book in that all important check-up for themselves.

It’s important to stay well

Carers are vital to the independence and well-being of thousands of people, however, supporting and caring for others can be very demanding and stressful and it can put your health at risk. 390,000 carers reported in the 2011 census that they themselves suffered ‘in bad health’. Worryingly, carers are less likely to find time in their day to focus on their own health, overlooking their own medical check-ups and treatments. In fact, 2 in 5 report that they deferred treatment because of their responsibilities as a carer.

All of the added stress takes a toll on the health outcomes for carers. Paired with the likeliness to defer treatment, it makes a dangerous cocktail. With 60-70% of carers likely to suffer themselves from a long-standing health problem, and a higher chance of suffering from conditions such as arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and mobility complications, not to mention mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression; the welfare of unpaid carers should be put into the spotlight.

It’s vital to stay positive

The Department of Health is committed to improving services for both carers and the people they care for.  Recognising the expertise of, and working in partnership with carers at all levels of health service design and delivery, they aim to enable carers to be involved in the support plan of the person they care for and their assessments, whilst fully recognising the differing social and emotional impacts of providing support to another person and that impacts do not necessarily correlate to the number of hours spent, or the tasks undertaken, in providing care.

Caring for someone can be incredibly difficult and often feel overwhelming, but it’s important to remember that as a carer, you will have developed fantastic organisational and planning skills, you have great patience, and that you are an expert in the health of the person you care for; knowing as much about their medication, conditions and in particular, their current state of mind and wellbeing, as the doctors and nurses supporting them.

Remember to keep going; that you are amazing and even if the person you care for can’t tell you that today, we definitely can.

You can get further help and information from Evergreen Life

Evergreen Life is a health, wellbeing and fitness app, which brings information together in one place and allows the sharing of data between trusted family members, carers and healthcare professionals. Evergreen Life strives to support carers and improve their ability to act in the capacity of carer, by ensuring they can access critical information, ultimately benefiting their health and wellbeing, too. The Evergreen Life app is available on Apple and Android devices.

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