mental health

Carer emotional and mental health: How respite care can keep you well

When a parent, friend or relative requires care – at any level – it can be a tricky time for everyone involved. Families are faced with more responsibility and decisions, and juggling this new aspect of life can prove tough. Caring for a loved one can be stressful; you might want to do everything you can for that person, but your own life may already be full of demands, such as other family members and work commitments.

Whilst caring can have many rewarding aspects, it can quickly become a part or full-time task, leaving families feeling guilty or anxious at times when they are unable to be there. According to Carers UK, ‘three in five’ people will take on a caring role in their lifetime, emphasising the significance of planning for this.

Financially, many families have members who cannot afford to give up work to take on this responsibility. And even if this was the case, there may well be financial struggle if you personally need to buy expensive equipment to assist your elderly loved one.

Physical Health
In addition to this, taking on the role of carer in the family context may take its toll physically. Caring for the elderly often entails lifting and manoeuvring. Fully qualified carers spend time in training, learning how to lift effectively- in a way that is safe for you both. An untrained family member may put their own back and body at risk of damage by helping to lift an elderly person. Even with the best intentions in mind- and even if it seems like you are only ‘helping them off the sofa,’ for example- there may be risk to the elderly person if they are not properly lifted, too.

Mental Wellbeing
Additionally, there can be a mental and emotional impact on the person providing care. Many people feel it’s an ‘expectation’ to take up the role of ‘carer,’ when their parents or elderly relatives start to become dependent. However, this ‘expectation’ can quickly evolve into something much more than ‘helping out’ – and it can significantly change your life.

It is often very upsetting to witness the deterioration of an elderly parent or relative- and feeling the strain of the responsibility, day in and day out, can seriously take its toll on your own mental wellbeing.

Why you should seek support
You may feel pressure that you ‘should be able to cope,’ but this is not the case, if you’re alone in doing so. Seeking support is only wise. Achieving a balanced and well-maintained sense of lifestyle is important, to create an environment that promotes the wellbeing of everybody involved in the elderly person’s care.

Respite Care
The NHS suggest that a good solution is respite care. Respite care offers you as the caregiver a chance to take a break for a certain amount of time, as specified by you. It is extremely important to ensure that you are able to rest and share the responsibility with someone else in order to maintain your physical, emotional and mental health.

According to Helping Hands “respite care works by putting in place a fully trained carer who will follow the same routines which exist already” and “they are not there to take over completely; instead they make sure that a continuity of care is maintained”.

And quite naturally, it will be common to feel anxious about leaving the person you support with an unfamiliar individual, as well as a range of other emotions, including guilt.

Therefore, it is important to remember that professional respite carers are the same as you. They are specifically trained to provide support to your loved one in their home and care as much as you do about the welfare of who they care for. A way to bridge a period of respite care is to spend some time with the carer and your loved one before taking some time for yourself.

Where to go next
When you’re starting to consider respite care or other forms of care for your family member, there are plenty of resources available. Researching potential providers and exploring their websites might be a good place to initiate conversations within the family, as well as make first contact with providers out there. Additionally, there are both charities and services that recognise the depth and breadth of care needs within the family: they will give personable and practical advice to support your situation. Certainly, don’t be afraid to take the first steps towards seeking help.

The Simplyhealth Care Community on HealthUnlocked is a place to discuss health and caring for loved ones, particularly in later life. Join the community and find support from others who understand.

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