Caring for a disabled relative or friend can be a rewarding experience. But,
without the right support, it can also be a difficult one.
If you're a carer, there are many organisations that can provide practical and financial help, as well as short breaks from caring. You can find information, advice and support in the Carers Direct section of NHS Choices.
The two main organisations that support carers are Carers UK and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers. They help carers in all aspects of their work, from practical to emotional matters.
The Princess Royal Trust for Carers has 129 carers' centres across the UK where you can find information, emotional support and training in skills such as first aid and stress reduction.
Whoever you care for, their entitlement to support from social services is arranged through a community care assessment. You can ask for your own needs to be included in this, and you're entitled to a carer's assessment in your own right under the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000.
A carer's assessment provides an opportunity to discuss your caring role and the support that you need. It's not an assessment of how well you perform your role, but an evaluation of the support that you're entitled to. You'll get the chance to discuss issues such as:
- is your caring role affecting your health?
- do you get enough sleep?
- are you worried that you may have to give up work?
- do you get enough time to yourself?
You could be entitled to personal care assistance: this could mean having someone around to help your relative have a bath or shower. You may also be entitled to adaptations to your house, special equipment, and a break from your caring role, during which your relative will be looked after.
You can learn more about the carer's assessment and how to apply for one at the Carers Direct pages on arranging a carer's assessment.
Short breaks from caring
We all need regular breaks to recharge our batteries, and carers are no different.
Sometimes, short breaks will involve someone else caring for your relative for a few hours a week, leaving you free to do your shopping or visit friends. At other times it could be care for a week or longer, so that you can go on holiday.
Your social services department can advise you on what respite care it can provide and how to access it.
Respite care schemes are also available from independent organisations, including Crossroads Care, the Shared Care Network and Vitalise.
We all need a break from time to time. Don't feel guilty about wanting a break, or think that you don't need time off because your caring role is not a conventional 'job'.
In the long-term, you'll cope better with the demands of caring if you take time off for yourself.
You can learn more by reading the Carers Direct pages on getting time off.
Finances and employment
You may incur costs because of your caring role, and your income through employment may be reduced. Check your entitlement to welfare benefits, including carer's allowance, at the Directgov pages on financial support for carers.
More than three million people combine caring responsibilities with employment. The Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 and the Work and Families Act 2006 have given carers more rights in employment, education and leisure opportunities.
Carers UK campaigns actively on employment issues and leads the Action for Carers and Employment (ACE National) initiative, which promotes the inclusion of carers in training and work.
Since April 2007, carers of adults have had the right to request flexible working from their employer, which must consider the request seriously.
How you feel
It's normal to have complex feelings about your caring role.
You may find it difficult to cope with the changes in your life when you start caring. You can get much-needed mutual support by talking to other carers. Carers UK has a list of online forums for carers.
Looking after your health is crucial. Eat well, exercise regularly and talk to your GP if you feel stressed or depressed. Participating in creative activities can be a very good way of releasing your feelings.
Courses for carers will also be developed as part of the Expert Patient Programme, an NHS-based training venture.
For a comprehensive overview of caring, visit the Carers Direct section of NHS Choices.