Posted on 12/06/2020 by Jayne Morris
It is Carers Week this week, an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring and to highlight the challenges unpaid carers face and recognise the contribution they make throughout the UK.
This year however there is more poignancy with over 4.5 million additional people caring for older, disabled or seriously ill relatives or friends since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
I have been a carer for 4 years now to a parent with dementia who lives with me and whilst it is a personal choice driven by love and I would not change a thing, it is quite frankly, hard work! There are many of you out there who, like me, are balancing a career with the role of a carer and that challenge has been intensifying since lockdown. There will be other carers who don’t live together or who have isolated themselves because of health vulnerabilities or young carers who now don’t have school to go to where they can just be a child.
There are highs and lows on a day to day basis and personal challenges that are dementia related. I find a routine is a great help, however, the pandemic has completely thrown that, my mum asks me several times a day when she can get her hair cut or why her great grandchildren cannot visit. We have the added complications of her recovery from a hip replacement after a fall however without the daily commute I now have more time to help with her physio.
I thought I would share with you my top tips for carer survival. Some of these I am better at than others if I am being really honest with you (note to self; tip one)
1. Be Honest – how many times during a week does someone ask you how you are and without thinking you respond “I’m fine thanks” I think this response is pre-programmed and automatic. If someone asks you how you are, they (most of the time) have a genuine concern or want to help. Don’t be afraid to share the load, telling someone how you actually feel may make you feel less alone in a problem or could be a good way to just vent frustration at a particular challenge you face.
2. Make time for you – make sure you have some “you time” this could be a walk or exercise class, a night out with friends (post CV19 of course) or some gardening or other hobby.
3. Be kind to yourself – a carer’s role can be a challenge, particularly with dementia in mind you look ahead and worry about what might happen next. No one is perfect and some days are harder than others, you worry you are not doing it right or whether there are better things you could be doing. Criticising yourself won’t help you (and in fact it will make you feel a lot worse) and won’t help the person you care for.
4. Get advice & information – there are many great organisations out there that understand what you are going through and can help you. Caring can be very rewarding but without the right support, it can have a negative impact on your health, career, finances, and relationships. Carers UK is a great start or one of the specific charities with tailored information. I did an online course a couple of years ago called Understanding Dementia and it has really helped me in so many ways.
5. Accept help – (this is the one I am not good at!!) No man is an island – take up offers of help from your friends and family. This could be to give you a break, pick up prescriptions or shopping. The great-grandchildren have been reading to mum every day, this is the highlight of her day and gives me uninterrupted Zoom meeting time. Whilst you may feel it is all down to you and you do it best others are willing and wanting to help.
6. Keep calm and carry on – whatever the day throws at you, you can just put one foot in front of the other and keep going forward (OK admittedly sometimes you have to step back to jump forward but even then you are going in the right direction). Every carer does their best and it comes from the heart, even on the tough days we are doing an amazing job!
I also find that laughter is good medicine, as hard as it is, look for the humour; we bought my mum an Alexa so she could ask it to call us or play music however she can’t remember the name Alexa so doesn’t use it (it is however, good to set reminders for her to do things so not completely useless).
I would also like to think my carer role and experiences helps to make me a more compassionate, supportive, and flexible employer. I know I am certainly thankful for the support and understanding I get from our team and the appreciation I have for the flexibility we have in our working environment.
If you are a carer, take a bow, it may be Carers Week but every day you are a star. If you are not a carer, hopefully this has helped you gain some insight … you never know, one day it may apply to you!