Being a carer for an elderly family member or parent is becoming increasingly common. With developments in medicine increasing life expectancies, there are now around 6.5 million people providing varying degrees of care around the UK.
Though caring for a loved one can be a very fulfilling experience, it can also prove to be a challenge at times, which is why being prepared for whatever the role might throw at you will make coping with different eventualities much easier.
Whether you’ve been looking after a family member for a while now or you’re just starting on your care journey, our article will explain becoming a carer, looking after a loved one, the benefits available and other support that carers can access.
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The nature of this kind of unpaid care work means that many carers don’t recognise their role as a carer until they’ve been doing it for around two years. You may support a loved one with day-to-day tasks, for instance with their shopping or housework.
This is especially likely to be the case if the amount of care you’re providing to a loved one starts small and then gradually increases over time. What’s more, the lines between taking on a care role and the relationship you have with a family member are often blurred.
According to the NHS, a carer is anyone that looks after a family member, partner or friend who is unable to do so themselves. This could be down to an illness, disability or something similar. Without your help, this person will struggle to manage everyday tasks.
Simply put, a carer can be anyone who takes on the responsibilities we’ve just outlined.
Though family caregiving can be a genuinely fulfilling and rewarding experience, you’ll still be faced with challenges that make it clear how big a responsibility caring for a family member like a parent can be.
Some of the biggest challenges include:
Caregivers often have less time for themselves and other family members. Spending too much time caring for your loved one can lead to things like hobbies and holidays being sacrificed.
Caring for someone with a condition like dementia can cause emotional stress and difficulties. Meanwhile, physical demands like helping with mobility can also take a toll on unpaid carers. If you’re looking after your loved one and feeling overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or worn out, there’s support available.
Family caregivers often say that a lack of privacy can make it difficult to set boundaries and take time for themselves.
If your loved one’s sleep-wake cycle is out of line with the norm then your own sleeping schedule may be affected as a result.
The vast majority of family carers are unpaid which can lead to a financial strain, especially if caregiving takes you away from a paid job.
Caregivers often find asking for help a difficult task, instead feeling it necessary to fully assume the burden of being a carer without assistance from anyone else.
Depending on how much time caregiving is taking up, you could struggle to maintain social connections outside of your parent’s home.
The biggest challenge of being a carer for a loved one is seeking a balance between caregiving and taking time for yourself. This is why respite services are so important to family caregivers. Respite care homes will allow you to take a break from caregiving duties and tend to your own needs, whether this is going on holiday, focusing on health or pursuing other interests.
Here are some tips for the first steps you should take when beginning to care for your elderly parents or a different family member:
As a family member or child of someone who requires care, there’s plenty to consider and important decisions to be made. Think about your own circumstances, your loved one’s situation and how much you’ll be able to contribute to their care.
Finding the best method of care for your family members isn’t easy. Be sure to consult with your elderly parents about their care needs as any decisions made will affect them more than they’ll affect you. After all, they’re the ones who will receive care, whether this is by you, in a care home or in a similar care setting.
Your loved ones may have been needing some extra help for a while now or perhaps they’ve recently had a fall or suddenly become unwell. Either way, when long-term care is needed, you’ll want to carefully but quickly have the necessary conversations and make decisions off the back of these.
Keep in mind that your loved ones have probably been independent for their entire adult lives, so we fully understand why they might not be keen to begin depending on somebody else. They may also be worried about leaving their beloved home and familiar surroundings.
Though these conversations can be difficult, they’re still very important to have. Explain to your loved ones that you believe care and support are required for them to remain safe within their home. It might also be worth mentioning that a care home is another care option capable of providing an amazing level of care to elderly residents.
While persuading parents to accept help can be tricky, remember that there are ways to lead this conversation so everyone is open and honest about how they’re feeling.
Unpaid carers take on several responsibilities when looking after someone else.
Depending on your family member’s requirements, this could take up a little bit, most or all of your time. Some people choose to move in with their family members, while others will visit once a day or so.
Your responsibilities as a carer for a family member could include:
These tasks can also be divided into three main categories:
There are several ways that you can roll up your sleeves and help out with the practical side of care. Arranging other forms of social care like a care home, adapting your loved one’s own home, keeping this home safe and providing personal care can all make a big difference in creating a comfortable environment.
Looking after your family member’s finances could prove invaluable. By arranging the payment of social care, helping with paperwork and looking after their bank account, you’ll take away heaps of stress that can be caused by having to deal with money-related tasks.
We understand that taking care of your loved one’s mental health is just as important as other care needs. Encouraging your parent to take regular walks and interact with others will work wonders for their wellbeing.
Every elderly parent and family member is different, so the care you provide needs to be tailored to their requirements. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, which is why getting your parents’ needs assessed is essential.
Some of this assessment will look at whether your parents require professional help, along with other options like at-home care and residential care. Living in a care home may reassure your parents and other family members that they can remain in familiar surroundings while being supported by friendly staff.
Getting a needs assessment will result in your parents having a care plan made for them. This important document will set out the support your parents need and will include recommendations on what support is required. It’ll also set out a ‘personal budget’, with this being the amount that the local council will contribute towards paying for care.
Around £23 billion is spent on care every year, £15.7 billion of which is for residential care while the other £7.3 billion is spent on domiciliary (in home) care.
Whether you’re paying for care or providing it yourself, it’s important to make arrangements regarding long term care. Financial assessments will often be involved and will look at what’s affordable and whether financial help is needed.
Something else to bear in mind is that your family members may eventually need more support than what you’ve previously been able to offer, which could mean reducing your hours at work (for instance going part-time). Not only will this impact your own finances, but it’ll also affect how much you’re able to contribute towards paying for any additional care.
If your family members live independently then your’s or their home might need adapting to accommodate changing circumstances.
For example, you might need to budget for specialist equipment like handrails (£50 to £150 each), stairlifts (£900 and up), accessible shower facilities (£200 and up), ramps (around £40 each) and anything else that springs to mind.
There are also lots of small expenses. In between bills, petrol and shopping, these can start to quickly add up.
We’d recommend getting into the habit of creating a plan that looks at how much you’ll need to spend and how much you have left within your budget. While not precise, this rough guide should go a long way to helping you and your loved ones stay on top of your finances.
One of the biggest decisions you and your loved ones will need to make is whether you’ll care for them at home, or whether they’ll move into a residential care home or something similar. Care homes are a great choice as they offer more opportunities for social interaction, along with expert and dedicated staff. Meanwhile, home care will allow your parents to remain in familiar surroundings.
Care options include:
Residential care homes provide accommodation and care support when your loved ones are no longer able to live on their own.
Elderly people move into self-contained homes, flats or bungalows that have shared facilities and communal areas. A more upmarket version of independent living is a retirement village.
Assisted living is similar to sheltered housing, except with the addition of care professionals that are available to help.
This is somewhere that elderly loved ones can go during the day to receive social support, meet like-minded people and enjoy some new surroundings.
Talk to specialists and anyone else involved in your loved one’s care; such as their GP, social workers and staff at respite homes that they may have stayed at for short periods in the past. See what these different people would recommend.
Most importantly of all, have an in-depth talk with your parents about what they have planned and how they’d like their care to pan out. If they’ve seen their friends and acquaintances receiving care then they’ll probably have opinions and concerns regarding their care, all of which should be addressed.
An often unforeseen factor in being a carer are the costs and fees involved. This can be especially tricky to navigate if you’re having to work less to keep up with your family member’s care needs.
Thankfully, providing care at home will likely entitle you to financial support and benefits to help with the costs of being a carer. If your loved one enters a care home then there are also several care home benefits they can claim.
A carer’s assessment works out whether you qualify for council support in your role as an unpaid carer
Here are the carer’s benefits that you could be entitled to and how you can get them:
This is the main state benefit for carers and currently pays £69.70 per week. Generally speaking, you’re eligible for a carer’s allowance when caring for someone longer than 35 hours a week.
This is a National Insurance credit that contributes to your National Insurance record and makes sure you don’t lose out on certain social security benefits.
This extra allowance can be received on top of other state benefits. You could be eligible for a carer premium if you already receive a benefit like Income Support, Universal Credit or Housing Benefit.
We’ve gone over these three benefits in more detail below.
As a carer, you may be able to claim other allowances besides the ones that are specifically aimed at the carers. You can check what benefits you’re entitled to by using the Government’s benefits calculator.
If you care for your loved one at least 35 hours a week and they receive certain benefits then you can get usually get a carer’s allowance. This benefit is worth £69.70 per week for April 2022 to 2023 and is usually paid every four weeks.
You’ll likely be eligible for a carer’s allowance if:
You can claim this via GOV.UK.
This is a weekly Class 3 National Insurance credit for carers which will protect your future entitlement to State Pension and any bereavement benefits. Carer’s credit can also be helpful if your spouse or partner needs to claim bereavement benefits. Your state pension is based on your National Insurance record and is logged through your National Insurance number.
You’ll be eligible for carer’s credit if you’re aged 16 or over and look after one or more people for a total of at least 20 hours a week. The family members who you care for will need to claim any of:
If your loved one isn’t getting any of these benefits then you may still be able to get carer’s credit if they’ve been certified by a health or social care professional as requiring the hours of care being provided each week.
The carer premium is an additional amount of money which is paid on top of other benefits you might already be claiming.
The benefits you can get a carer premium added to are:
Also known as Carer Addition and the Carer Element (depending on which benefit you claim), the carer premium is £38.85 a week for 2022-23. This is instead paid at £168.35 a month for people on Universal Credit.
If you’re a mental health carer then you may qualify for a carer premium. You may also qualify if you or your partner are entitled to a carer’s allowance.
With that being said, you don’t have to be receiving a carer’s allowance to receive the carer premium. However, to get the premium added to your benefit, you should still apply for a carer’s allowance first.
Professional carers can relieve some of the pressure, while there are plenty of other avenues for getting help and support as an unpaid carer.
If you feel that your physical or mental health is being impacted by your caring responsibilities then consider one of the following options:
Respite care will allow you to take a break from caring while your loved one is looked after by someone else. Taking some time for yourself or going on holiday will help you feel re-energised.
If your family member suddenly requires more support than previously, you can request compassionate leave. This will give you the time to look after them until care is in place.
When you have a few minutes spare, try out short bursts of meditation or breathing exercises for relaxation.
Write what you’re going through and how it’s making you feel. Getting these thoughts off of your chest can make a big difference.
Know when you’re working, when you’re caring for your family members and when you’ll be relaxing. Make a list and cross things off when they’re taken care of.
Keeping fit can have a massive impact on your mental wellbeing.
You might also want to contact the following organisations which can offer you information and access to local support groups:
If providing care for a family member becomes too much then searching for an elderly care home is often the next port of call. Thankfully, Lottie removes much of the difficulty from this process by combining years of human expertise and smart technology to connect elderly people with the UK’s very best residential care homes!
If you have any questions or queries regarding the care homes we offer then don’t hesitate to get in touch with our amazing care experts.