Prepared to Care
Caring for an older person is a constantly changing and developing role. The concerns you have and the questions you need answers to change as you move through different stages and intensities of support. Our advice on how to be prepared to care is organised to reflect this by identifiying three distinct stages of care: Light Touch; Getting More Hands On and High Intensity Care, with short briefings and links to sources of advice on the issues that you might be thinking about at each stage as well as signposting to support that will help you in attending to your own well-being.
When Light Touch Care is needed
Becoming an informal carer for an older person, whether a relative, friend or neighbour is a significant undertaking even if it starts with small tasks such as shopping or taking them to hospital appointments. For the older person the support provided may make all the different to their capacity to stay living independently in their own home.
However, for carers there can be unforseen impacts on daily life including work or family relationships. There are many sources of support available to carers, including local authority, AgeUK and Carer's Trust services. This thoughtful piece from Carer's Trust explains the emotional impact that caring for a parent can have and gives links to services for carers.
For those providing light touch care for an older person there are several issues that regularly come up. The links below give advice and checklists to support in addressing these.
Managing Money, including budgeting and getting the best deals from utilities or savings as well claiming entitlements or benefits is a key area where carers can give helpful support to an older person. You may also at this point wish to broach issues over Power of Attorney, wills and inheritance.
If the person you are caring for is finding it difficult to continue to access their money or to carry out day to day banking or financial management, but has all their faculties and you do not feel that a Power or Attorney is the right next step, there are now many more options such a second accounts or pre-paid cards - see this helpful overview. These are much safer than resorting to sharing cash cards and PINs, which carry risks for both parties.
For more generic impartial advice on financial matters, we also recommend the Money Advice Service
Safety when driving is something that may well need to be addressed at some point, along with the responsibility to notifiy the DVLA of medical conditions. Our briefing Driving, Travel and Mobility covers these issues as well as entitlements to concessions on public transport, applying for a blue badge or accessing community transport support services such as Dial-a-Ride.
A really important area where you can help an older person is maintaining their quality of life, supporting them to stay confident by staying active and connected and in looking after their health and well-being more generally.
Getting More Hands On
If and when you need to provide more extensive support for an older person you should make sure you read this guide to your rights as a carer, which include having your needs assessed by the local authority. It also covers financial support that you might be able to apply for, such as the carer's allowance, pension credit or respite care. For carers who are combining the role with working, there is guidance on carers rights at work, including to right to request flexible working.
As involvement becomes more hands on, there may need to be a discussion with the person you are supporting about setting up a Power of Attorney as a precaution for the future.
At this stage it is also likely that certain home adaptations would be helpful for the person you are supporting from larger items such as stair lifts, to kitchen equipment such as kettle tippers and key safes. There are also speciifc actions that you can take so that the older person is able to get help if they become ill or have a fall while they are on their own. See AgeUK's comprehensive guide to home adaptations and safety.
As you start thinking about possible types of support and care, this guide to the range of options and issues to think about produced by the organisation SuperCarers may be helpful.
Much of this will of course be uncharted territory for both you and the older person and may not always be welcome. There are some simple techniques that can help with difficult conversations - see this briefing by Independent Age. Mind have also produced an excellent guide on how to cope when supporting someone else, applicable to many situations.
High Intensity Caring
As care needs increase you are likely to need support in a number of areas. A key issue will be understanding social care, including assessments of need - see this overview from AgeUK and our guide to understanding the distinction between social care and health care.
Once you are in the position that there is a need for additional, professional care for the older person to supplement the care that you provide, you will need to understand how local authority provided care is assessed and charged for, and how to find suitable carers if you are organising this yourself. This may also be a point at which the difficult issues of toilieting and incontinence become more problematic - see this guide to solutions and support.
At this stage it will almost certainly be helpful for you and the older person you are supporting to consider applying for attendance allowance, a non means-tested benefit to support people who require help with daily activities.
Depending on how things develop you may need to address the issue of moving into more suitable accommodation and start thinking through the options, including sheltered, or extra care sheltered, housing or finding the right care home. Or you may need support with care after leaving hospital and possible eligibility for NHS continuing and NHS-funded nursing care.
If there is a Power of Attorney for the person you care for this may now need to come into play. If no PoA was made then you may be able to apply to the Court of Protection to set up a Deputyship if the person you care for now lacks capacity to made decisions for themselves.
There is also specific advice available for people who are caring for someone with dementia as well as other of the common age-related conditions such as Parkinsons, and support for both you and the person you are helping in thinking about end of life issues.
Carers provide invaluable support both to an older person who is important to them and to society more generally. There will be many challenges and many ups and downs, but the rewards at the time or with the benefit of hindsight should also be cherished. While you are in the thick of it we hope you will also be able to take whatever opportunities you can to look after your own health and to maintain social contact and network with other people in the same position.
Respite breaks are often available through local carers charities. If you are or have recently been looking after someone with a recognised life-limited condition then you could apply to the charity After Umbrage for a respite break, with or without your loved one. Their cottage near Bath is available free of charge for up to four nights. Each applicant is allowed up to three stays including time for those recently bereaved. Find out more here.
For further advice and support we would recommend How to Handle Later Life by the author Marion Shoard, who drew on her experience of caring for her mother, and combined it with meticulous research on what support is available, what you need to know about this final life stage and what works and what doesn't.