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We must protect the health and wellbeing of carers

dementia alzheimer doctor patient wellbeing
dementia alzheimer doctor patient wellbeing

Heléna Herklots

Chief Executive of Carers UK

Caring for a loved one with dementia often means carers put their own health needs to the back of the queue. It’s time to make sure carers and those they support are healthy and connected.

The majority of people with dementia are cared for at home by relatives and friends. Demographic changes and spending pressures on formal health and social care services mean that the numbers of us caring for loved ones is increasing and the number of hours we spend caring is also on the rise.

Supporting carers to be healthy and connected

Sometimes, it is difficult to find time to take care of a loved one and your own wellbeing, with carers often putting their own health needs to the back of the queue. Each June, Carers Week aims to raise the profile of carers, celebrate their contribution and highlight the impact of caring. This year, we need to focus on the health and wellbeing of carers.

Carers report high levels of physical and mental poor health. Not being able to get enough sleep, putting off medical appointments, not having the time or financial resources to eat healthily and sustaining injuries while caring for someone are all common issues reported by carers.

The world shrinks

Loneliness and isolation are all too common for carers. Eight in ten carers responding to our 2017 State of Caring Survey reported feeling isolated or lonely as a result of their caring role and this can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. For many carers, the world simply shrinks. Your role can become one of providing and co-ordinating care, taking your loved one to medical appointments, going to the pharmacy, liaising with care workers. You can feel invisible, as you fade into the background and the needs of the person you are caring for take centre stage. It can be lonely bearing so much of the responsibility of caring for a loved one.

We can’t afford to take carers for granted

Unpaid care for someone with dementia is worth an estimated £11.6 billion a year – an indication of the huge contribution that carers make.

If families aren’t supported to care for both themselves and their loved ones, they will be unable to continue in their caring role, meaning the NHS and other public services will be forced to step in.

But, the right information, advice and support at the right time can transform families’ lives.

Support from health and care professionals

GPs, care workers and hospitals have a key role. By thinking about the needs of the family around the patient they can help carers access support. Support should help them look after their own health and the whole family, too, such as technology that can help people with dementia be more independent ­– safely – while giving carers peace of mind.

Taking a break

Everyone needs a break to recharge the batteries and have some time to themselves. This is even more important for carers. Yet, a third of carers (32%) looking after someone with dementia who responded to our survey have not had a day off from their caring role in more than a year. Funding and delivery of carers’ breaks needs an urgent review.

Working together to support carers

Carers are doing more than ever to support others; they must be supported to stay healthy and connected. From GPs to employers and from schools to family members, we all have a part to play in encouraging people we know to recognise themselves as carers and access information and practical support.

We hope that a number of key government programmes, specifically the forthcoming Cross Government Carers Action Plan will set out some concrete measures to deliver strengthened practical and financial support for carers, improved recognition for caring and sustainable improvements in health and social care.

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