Carers Week 11-17 June 2018
6.5 million people in the UK are currently providing unpaid care for someone who needs extra support as they grow older or for someone with an illness, disability or mental health problem. Often those caring for someone will not think of themselves as being a carer, rather they see it as doing what is necessary for their spouse, parent, child or friend. Though this can be greatly rewarding, strengthens relationships and no doubt provides a huge contribution to our health and social care system, unfortunately many carers receive insufficient help and support.
When looking after a loved one with a health condition, one’s own wellbeing can be overlooked. Sadly, many people aren’t adequately prepared for the impact caring will have on their own lives, with over half of carers struggling to maintain their own health and 46% missing out on good quality sleep.
Carers Week aims to highlight the contribution carers make to individuals, families and communities across the UK whilst also raising awareness of the challenges they face.
How Luto makes a difference
“To be Healthy and Connected, carers need the information and practical support to care safely without harming their own physical and mental health” (Carers Week, 2018)
Being a carer is a complex role; from physical help to personal care, practical support, emotional support, administering medication and organising finances, carers take on a lot of different responsibilities. Inevitably, with caring comes a mind field of information which can unfortunately create more stress and confusion at an already difficult time. Luto is proud to specialise in making such information as clear as possible so that patients and their carers are in a position to make informed decisions with ease. Carers of all kinds regularly take part in research at Luto and by utilising their experience and expertise, we can improve the readability of healthcare information so that it is fit for purpose at the point of use.
You can read about how we helped Macmillan Cancer Support improve their information booklets here.
To provide some further insight into being a carer, I caught up with my colleague Rachael (Project Manager in Training) following her recent experience of caring for a close relative.
What is the hardest part about balancing work whilst being a carer?
The hardest part for me was trying to control emotions and stress levels while being a carer. Your self-care regime completely comes to a stand-still and your life revolves around the person you are caring for. It is very difficult as work becomes unimportant, as does everything and everyone else, apart from the person you are caring for. I found it difficult especially looking into the future; looking at the direction I was heading in, it was as if someone had hit the pause button, even though you feel like you are going at a million miles an hour.
For me, I was driving up and down the country regularly as my dad lived down South – so of course this was exhausting and I missed out on a lot of sleep. I totally burned the candle at both ends. I tried to work from dad’s as much as I could, but sometimes it was difficult as all I wanted to do was focus my time on him, especially when we found out his condition was terminal. It also depended on whether my work could be done externally.
It really is a struggle and I was signed off sick towards the end of my dad’s illness – I’m incredibly thankful for that time with him and needed to focus all of my energy on him as well as take care of myself and my family. Balancing work at this point was no longer an option and I think if you’re not careful, you burn yourself out and struggle to function.
What skills do carers gain that are useful to employers?
This is difficult – I’ve worked as an employed care worker in the past before coming to Luto, and you certainly learn skills relevant to the work place. I would say you learn patience, how to control emotions, how to look at certain events critically, and analyse them more. Sometimes with non verbal individuals for example, you need to figure out what they are trying to communicate. I would also say you gain time-management and organisation skills. In a caring role you learn just how vital it is to be punctual and organised, especially when working with individuals who have mental health issues and are vulnerable, like I did. When you are caring for a family member you also gain the ability to focus and prioritise what is important, and you certainly learn what your limits are emotionally and physically which can be useful in the work place.
What small things could we all do to support colleagues who are carers?
This is also a difficult question as it’s impossible for people to fully understand what you are going through if they haven’t been in a similar position. However, I think if people are just patient that helps a lot. When you’re suddenly caring for someone you’re not as “switched on” as you once were in other aspects of your life, and one of them is work. I think it was nice when people were aware, and offered help, but did not constantly ask about how my dad was. It was lovely for people to ask occasionally, but it often did make me emotional. Sometimes, work can act as a sort of escape even though at times it is stressful in itself.
What can employers do to support staff who are carers?
Flexibility is absolutely vital – I cannot stress this enough. So, being able to work from home more, or work some longer days and some shorter for example. Also, being aware that things could change at a moment’s notice and being able to cater for that is important. My dad was very poorly and some days I had to up and leave work so employers helping the individual plan for every eventuality, and visa versa, is so important. Carers are under a lot of stress and pressure so if a workplace can relieve some of that, it helps a great deal. Relieving pressure could involve help with a piece of work you are managing or being flexible with working days and times.
It would be wonderful if all employers had procedures in place for cases where a member of staff may suddenly need to care for a family member or friend more, so the employee knows what their options are. I also think it’s a great idea if a company has a strong HR department and maybe counselling on offer for employees who need some help or advice.