6 Things I’ve Learnt About Caring: Advice To New Carers

8th August 2016
I became a carer for my mum when I was 12 years old, and since moving out in my early twenties I still keep a close eye, as her needs have increased.

I also care for my nan, though not as much because the demands of being a single parent to a young child tends to take up the majority of my time, alongside paid work of course.

So whilst I’m not a full time carer, I still have experience in caring for people with physical and mental health needs, and have learnt a lot of the years.

I hope this is helpful to anyone starting out in caring for someone, and if you know any other great tips please add them to the comment section below.

6 Things I've Learnt About Caring: Advice To New Carers
6 Things I’ve Learnt About Caring: Advice To New Carers

1. Work Out What They Want and Need From You

It can be quite a shock to go from being self-sufficient to suddenly needing someone to help you with basic tasks. It can affect people’s pride and their self-esteem, particularly if you are receiving care from your own children or grandchildren after spending years being the carer for them.

So with this in mind it’s important to establish with them what they can still do and what they need help with. Don’t just automatically do everything for them because if they can still do certain things they will want to continue to do so to maintain some independence.

Sure it may take them double the time to wash the dishes than it takes you, but nothing beats the feeling for them that they can still do it themselves.

If they’re starting to find some things harder to do, gently ask if they want you to take over. There may be some things that they can no longer do but feel they can.

When this happens it can be so frustrating for you to watch especially when they reject your help. Start by trying to distract them by asking them to do something they can actually do (why don’t you make us a cuppa while I finish this off?) but if that doesn’t work you need to calmly, but firmly ask them to stop, particularly if you feel they may hurt themselves otherwise.

It’s tough when there’s things they don’t think they need help with which they actually do. You can get advice from places such as Age UK or Carers UK if you are struggling to find ways to work with your loved one.

2. Home Adaptations

For many conditions there can be adaptations made to the house which can help immensely. This can even be small things such as adding a little hand rail to side of the bath or the bed so they can get up and down without your help. 

It can include adding hand rails to the garden, having adjustable beds and chairs and also things like bath seats and raised toilet seats.

We contacted adult social services for both my nan and mum and booked an occupational therapist to come out to look at what adaptations would help them. Some adaptations they will even do for free, and those that are not within their budgets they can still advise what would be useful and you can then buy them from various shops and online companies.

3. Hobbies

Hobbies are vital for everyone. We all need mental and physical stimulation to maintain good mental health, mood and general health. 

For people with physical or mental health issues hobbies can be even more vital. They keep the mind active, which is something I’ve been desperate for my nan to maintain since her diagnosis with Alzheimer’s last year. 

6 Things I've Learnt About Caring: Advice To New Carers
Hobbies Are Vital

Finding hobbies for my nan has been difficult as her condition has deteriorated, but we have found some activities from Active Minds who specialise in activities, games, puzzles and exercises to help people with Dementia. Activities include animal bingo, DVDs and reminiscence books.

My favourite is the aquapaint activity which is a reusable painting activity where only water is used. Once the water dries the image fade and can be used again and my nan won’t have to worry about trying to draw the initial shapes and no paint can be spilt.

4. Maintain Their Mobility To Maintain Their Independence

My mum is still quite young but at the end of last year we nearly lost her and the effects of the organ failure led to her finding it difficult to walk even now. 

This has been hard for her because it has cut off a lot of her independence; Being stuck at home or having to be escorted by your children everywhere must really do something to your pride. She felt quite isolated during this time so began to look at ways to gain some of her independence back.

6 Things I've Learnt About Caring
Aids For Mobility Are So Useful

We looked into mobility scooters and managed to find one she felt comfortable with. Betterlife have a great range online and in their stores, with each model having different functions depending on the person’s needs. 

It’s lovely to see how much happier she is now this is in her life because she can pop to the shops when she’s run out of milk rather than waiting for one of us to do it. She can go to the doctors and chemist without being escorted, and she can pick up Curly from school which is something she missed hugely.   

It also means if we have family days out that involve a lot of walking she has it to use when she gets tired. She can walk with a stick but not for long periods. It’s also something she can use in the icy, wet weather as sticks tend to lose their grip in these conditions. 

5. Socialising

Being home all day everyday is not good for anyone. It may be difficult to get them out and about as it can take a lot of planning and preparation, but it is so important for them to interact with people and socially engage. 

Socialising helps our mental wellbeing and can also help us to keep active if it involves going for walks or joining an exercise/dance class. 

Day centres are brilliant, and many offer the option of transporting the person to and from the centre. The centres are fully equipped for all health and mobility needs, staff are trained carers and there’s a range of activities that your loved one can enjoy whilst you get some time out to recharge your batteries.

6 Things I've Learnt About Caring: Advice To New Carers
Communication Keeps Us Close

Similarly at home it’s important to keep them engaged with conversation as much as possible to help stimulate their mind. I have tried out Conversation Cards with my nan, which are designed to encourage people to talk to older people and the questions focus on the person’s past which is something that I have completely forgotten about asking nan so have loved trying it out.

6. Having Support For You

We all need breaks in order to be the best carers or parents we can be. If we don’t take time out to recharge it can impact on our ability to help them and do the best for them.

If there are lots of people in your family make sure you are not the only one doing all of the caring. Have a rota. 

If it is just you, seek advice from Carers UK about how you can access respite in the form of day care centres, carers who can visit the home and much more.

Make sure you talk to someone you trust about how you feel, as caring for someone can be physically and emotionally draining. Don’t lock it up inside as this can come out in negative ways such as anger and frustration, which will do nobody any good.

Try to have an hour to yourself per day, even if it’s just to have a bath and watch a 30 minute TV programme. We all need our down time, and we all need our personal space.

Remember you can do this, and be proud of the hard work you are putting in. 

This is a collaborative post.

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