Kate discusses some of the ways you can develop resilience as a carer so you can be at your best.
Here at the EASIE Living Centre prior to the Covid-19 restrictions, we began running carer support workshops for people caring for an older relative or friend. During the group we talked about the types of things we can do to keep ourselves well as informal carers.
We hope to get these groups back up and running soon, but in the meantime here are some of the ideas we discussed in previous workshops about practical ways we can help you, the carer, look after yourself.
The challenge of being an informal carer
These are uncertain times and they can be especially challenging if you’re caring for older loved ones or friends at home. You may have been doing this for some time already.
For some of you, a friend or family member may have moved into your bubble recently. Either way, being a main carer is an incredibly important job but also a very taxing one.
People working for formal care agencies often have training in moving and handling techniques and taught ways to look after themselves both physically and mentally.
Informal carers such as yourself sometimes miss out on this valuable information and have to learn and adjust for themselves. With this learning comes enormous amounts of stress so making sure you have time for yourself is paramount.
In playing the role of primary caregiver it is essential that you look after your own health and well being. Think of it like being on an aeroplane. In the unlikely event of an emergency, you are asked to “put your oxygen mask on first,” before helping others. This is because, you cannot help anyone else if you run out of oxygen yourself. When you are a care giver it is paramount you look after yourself first so that you can continue to provide help and support to others.
A great way to keep yourself positive and well is by encouraging the person you are looking after to retain a sense of independence and control over their own life, enabling you to maintain some independence in yours.
Setting them up for success
I think we are all sometimes guilty of doing things for people rather than getting them to do them for themselves. I definitely do this with my five-year old daughter. It’s good to stop and think sometimes about what they could do to help themselves. How can they be more independent with a task?
It is really important to analyse the task first and then look at the person to see which parts of the task could be done by them. For instance, this could be as simple as setting up an environment so everything is in reach. I know my Nan loved ironing (for some bizarre reason). The truth is she probably detested it but loved being able to help out.
My mum, who was her main carer as she was living with Nan, refused to let her do the ironing as she got too tired. It was not until I suggested we get her a perching stool with back and arms that she could complete the task without Mum stressing that she would get to tired and fall.
Independence in the bathroom
Setting up a shower environment so that everything is in reach, such as soap, shampoo caddies, etc, is also an easy way to encourage independence. They may need a stool on which to sit, and help getting over the step, but once they are in they can control the water (if you have a hand-held shower) and reach their own soap.
Long handled equipment, such as bath sponges, also avoid them having to reach down. They will get a greater sense of achievement and you can spend that time you had previously used assisting them to do something else. Make sure the activities are set up for success and do not rush activities that they obviously get pleasure doing.
Finding activities you enjoy
It's important that we keep up the activities we enjoy. I am referring to both the caregiver and the supported person here. We all need to keep doing things we enjoy but as we age sometimes we cannot do them anymore.
Explore potential barriers to activities
Ask them what they used to enjoy doing and what is stopping them from doing them now.
Working out what these barriers are can help you find ways to overcome them. For instance, a person may have loved knitting but can’t do it anymore as their arms get tired.
The importance of scheduling activities
Think about using cushions to prop up their arms. Suggest they do it in the morning for a short time whilst they are less tired. Scheduling the time may seem a bit clinical but it is crucial in obtaining success.
Once they realise they can do it, they will have such a sense of achievement and be keen to do it again. Most importantly, finding them something that they can do with little input from you leaves a guilt free window of opportunity to do something for yourself. This needs to be something you enjoy, not housework (unless of course you enjoy that).
Doing things you want to do
Find something you enjoy, too. It may be your time to do yoga. The person you are caring for will appreciate that you are spending time on yourself and may even feel less guilty for taking up “too much time”.
A win-win for all, but it is essential that you schedule the time otherwise it might not happen. Informing the person of the plan also gives them time to get used to it.
Ask for help
I realise some people may not be able to do a great deal for themselves and you need to assist them a lot of the time. This is where it is very important that you ask for help. Talk to the person, find out what activities are the most challenging, and work together to think of a solution.
This may involve asking someone else to help other than you to give you a break. For instance, your Mum may prefer that someone external comes in to assist with showering in the morning. I know this may be hard conversation to have, but it could also be a relief to hear.
Freeing up time by having someone in to assist with activities that you as a carer find challenging, keeps you free to complete your own tasks and gives you a little bit of a break to recharge and focus your energy on the more enjoyable tasks you may want to do together.
Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible and make plans. It is better to regularly “check in” and ask yourself how things are going than to wait for a crisis to occur. You will have a much clearer mind and chance to iron out issues before the situation gets out of control.