Looking after yourself – advice for live-in carers

It is estimated that in the UK 7,000,000 people are providing long-term care to a loved one. Of these, 1,277,693 are elderly and looking after a spouse or parent. Of these older carers, 65% are living with a disability or a long-term health condition themselves.

We can all appreciate that providing care to an older person with serious health, cognitive and mobility problems is hard work and tiring. After all, social care is a challenging job both mentally and physically. That is why all care providers limit the number of hours their employees can work.  This allows them to take appropriate rest time and recharge. However, there are no such regulations for those ‘unpaid carers’ looking after their own loved ones.

In the absence of any protective legislation for live-in carers, how can individuals protect themselves and stay safe and well?

The importance of looking after yourself

The majority of people who support and care for a loved one at home do so out of love. The person receiving care is their main focus and priority, meaning that they often don’t consider themselves at all. This selflessness is an admirable quality but brings with it some risks.

As already stated, some 850,000 carers over the age of 60 have their own health challenges, which can be overlooked due to their caring duties. This often results in those conditions not receiving appropriate treatment, in many cases getting worse.

Carers who stay healthy, happy, and well rested are naturally going to perform their caring duties to a higher standard. Not to mention, caring can be a very demanding job, both physically and mentally, and ensuring you have enough energy to get you through the day is vital.

Finally, and just as importantly, you deserve a happy and fulfilling life, and this does not change because you are caring for a loved one. At times it can feel as though you are living for the person you care for, but it is important to establish boundaries and to have your own individual life as well.

Look After Your Health and Wellbeing

What are some of the things we can do to stay healthy while caring for a loved one?

  • Eat well – one of the easiest and most effective ways of improving your health and safeguarding against debilitating conditions is to enjoy a quality well-balanced diet.  Make sure you get your five fruit or vegetables a day, eat regular meals and drink plenty of water.
  • Partake in regular exercise – everybody understands the importance of exercise, yet many of us do not do enough as we should. You may not be able to get out to the gym, run a marathon or play football, but that does not mean exercise shouldn’t be a key part of your self-care routine. There is plenty of advice and guidance online about exercise for older people, but make sure to speak to a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regime.
  • Good quality sleep – we all know how important sleep is, and how hard it is to tackle a challenging day if we don’t get enough. So, as best you can, create a good sleeping routine that allows you to maximise this valuable resource. Try and go to bed and rise at the same times every day, so your body gets used to the routine. Make sure you don’t drink caffeine after late afternoon and try and avoid a nightcap. Both alcohol and caffeine interrupt good-quality sleeping patterns.
  • Stay social – being a carer is part of your life and an important one, but it is not all that you do. Make time for family and friends, keep up your hobbies and retain as much social interaction as possible.

Get the Right Support

Do not try and do it all alone. Even the most skilled, dedicated and determined carer needs support and help. If you do not have a reliable support network, you risk taking on too much responsibility yourself, and this could lead to health problems of your own.

Accepting external help from healthcare professionals such as district nurses, agency carers, or family members is a sensible strategy. This may include hands-on caring, help with preparing meals or even a cleaner a few hours a week. Being part of a wider team will give you the physical and emotional support to keep going even when things become difficult.

Do not be afraid to take respite breaks, that may be a long weekend where a family member takes over for a few days for you to get away, a week or two in a care home so you can fully recharge or just sitting with them for an hour so you can get out and have a cup of tea with a friend.

Take Care of Your Emotional Health

Mental health is just as important physical health. Looking after someone with serious health conditions can take its toll on your mental health, so it is normal to feel overwhelmed and even frustrated.

If you find yourself struggling, it can help to open up to someone: a family member, friend, neighbour or even a counsellor. It can actually be easier to speak to somebody you don’t know (e.g. a counsellor) as it removes the fear of judgement.

For more information or if you wish to discuss care for your loved one please email care@greensleeves.org.uk