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Carers Week: Five expert tips to help you care for elderly relatives

ByHarvey Hugo

Jun 11, 2024 #health
Jackie Gray

It could be your mum, dad or even your grandparents.

But new data shows that around four million Brits are carers for elderly family members.

The cohort – dubbed ‘carents’ – is the biggest single group of carers in the UK.

And ahead of Carers Week, the founder of a network created to offer support and guidance for Britain’s ‘carents’ has shared her top tips for anybody who find themselves suddenly caring for older relatives.

Dr Jackie Gray, a former GP and NHS leader, launched The Carents Room following her own experience caring for her dad.

She’s now shared her top tips to help others caring for loved ones.

  • Have the talk

‘It isn’t easy to sit down with someone you love to talk about what will happen as they get older,” admits Jackie.

“But you must; The reality is the UK is aging quickly – the number of elderly people are expected to double within 15 years – and while it is lovely that the people you love are around for longer, independent living can become harder to manage as you get older.

“So sit down with your older relatives, make a cuppa and just gently ask the question.”

Additionally, despite the forecast that more people will be caring for older relatives, around 50 per cent of Brits believe they’ll never need to care.

As such, Jackie said it is sensible that you both know where you stand.

“Ultimately you may be the person having to pick up the slack with this if they lose their ability to live independently,” she added.

“If they want to live with you, that can be a lovely experience, but it can also be physically and mentally draining especially if they have extra needs which require round-the-clock care.

“Alternatively, while professional care can help ease the strain, it isn’t free to everyone – and can actually be extremely expensive – so get a plan in place early and make a decision together.”

  • Get your house in order

According to Dr Gray, one of the most frequent issues carents encounter involves securing lasting powers of attorney.

“Often people are reactive when it comes to powers of attorney – you need to be as proactive as possible,” she added.

“Time and time again, it pops up as something our carents wish they’d have got in place earlier on as there can often be significant delays and obstacles you need to overcome before it is in place.

Lasting powers of attorney allows you to legally act on behalf of someone, usually a relative, should they be unable to look after their own affairs.

It means you can make crucial decisions about their wellbeing on their behalf – from finances and medical care to their daily routine – and is often a crucial piece of the jigsaw when it comes to caring for someone who needs extra support.

  • Don’t be shy

One of the most surprising things carents encounter, according to Jackie, is how much you often have to fight to get help for those you love.

“People naturally assume services will automatically rally around them, but sadly, that isn’t the case.

“Don’t assume it will be offered – but know that it is there.

“GP surgeries and councils all have support services in place for people will health problems, and even their carers.

“Even banks and your utility providers, be it your gas or electric, are legally required to provide extra help.”

Given carents themselves are often middle-aged or older, Dr Gray realised many struggled to navigate what she claims can be a “labyrinth” of grants, benefits and other financial support available to help out.

As such, she compiled everything on The Carents Room website, which she hopes will effectively be a one-stop-shop for adult carers to see what they can – and can’t claim.

“A lot of people are pleasantly surprised about what they are actually able to claim, and in many cases, it can prove a real lifeline – but the biggest problem is often navigating the system, and that’s where we hope to be able to help the millions of people who can potentially benefit from it,” added Jackie.

  • Don’t suffer in silence

Having chatted with hundreds of carents, one heartbreaking theme keeps emerging.

Loneliness.

“Sadly, caring for an older relative can sometimes cut people off socially,” said Jackie.

“If a relative needs round-the-clock care and companionship, sometimes you just don’t have a minute to spare for someone else, whilst if they have more complex needs like dementia and there’s nobody else to help ease the load it can become consuming.”

In recognition of that, Dr Gray helped launch The Carents Lounge, an online network for carents to come together.

Stories and experiences are regularly shared, with The Carents Lounge also operating as a space for people to seek advice from those who have walked in their shoes – or simply to have a vent.

“Being a carent can be an emotional rollercoaster, so having a sympathetic ear – even if it is just a virtual one – can be invaluable,” Dr Gray added.

  • Be kind to yourself

Research carried out ahead of Carers Week revealed the toll the role can take on the UK’s four million carents.

The poll found over 60 per cent of carents admitted the role had impacted their mental health – whilst over half revealed it had a detrimental effect on them physically.

“Being a carent can be rewarding, and an experience filled with love – but it isn’t easy,” admitted Dr Gray.

“And the cruel irony is that the work they are doing by caring for elderly relatives takes an enormous strain off the NHS – yet they are absorbing that strain into their own health and wellbeing.

“Often they do the role whilst juggling jobs and their family, which can take a huge toll.

“More support is urgently needed for the UK’s four million carents, but there are definite steps they can take to help themselves.”

Basics like a good diet and exercise can play big roles, but the top tip? Keep moving.

“Even if you can’t get to a fitness class or gym due to your caring commitments, there’s plenty you can do in the home – from stretching to just standing, which burns twice as many calories as sitting,” she added.

“All of this can help with both your physical and mental health, which we found is sadly being neglected by so many carents.”

For more information about Carents, please visit https://carents.co.uk/