Carers the Unsung Heroes?

Carers play a vital role in helping people who have an illness or disability. The contribution they make to society is enormous. They help hold families together and enable loved ones to get the most out of life, and their work saves the economy billions of pounds every year. They are though unsung heroes. The work they do is often poorly understood, valued or recognised. This has meant that over the years it has been difficult for them to get the support and practical help they need to do their work effectively. Following recent government initiatives this situation is improving but much progress still needs to be made.

The number of carers in the UK is huge. At the present time about 6.5 million people (1 in 8 adults) in Britain care for family members and friends. This figure is growing. About 6,000 more people start looking after someone each day as the number of older people in the country continues to rise. Most carers are unpaid, but those who work 35 hours or more a week may be entitled to a Carer’s Allowance. In addition to those carers who work unpaid or who receive an allowance there is a small number of Professional Carers. They are carers who are employed by the NHS and work full time.

The work that carers carry out will depend on the medical condition of the person they are looking after. In those cases where they support people who are fairly independent, their work may entail helping for only a few hours each week with tasks such as transport, banking, shopping, preparing meals, washing up and other household chores. But in those cases where people need much more assistance their work can involve providing help for several hours each day with needs such as feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, lifting and moving, and administering medications.

In those cases where a person is living with a long-term medical condition such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Motor Neurone or Cerebral Palsy, the services of a Professional Carer may be needed. Some of them provide help on a ‘live-in’ basis. A Professional Carer can undertake clinical tasks such as managing PEG feeds, dressing wounds, administering injections, and managing catheters. They often liaise with medical professionals, sharing information, and reporting changes in symptoms. The familiarity that a Professional Carer will gain of the person who they are looking after, especially those who provide help on a live-in basis, means that they are often best placed to identify subtle changes in condition. The services of a Professional Carer will enable the person they are caring for to receive the help they need in the comfort and familiarity of their own home. This can give emotional support and reassurance to the family of the person who is receiving this help.

Most people know that having suitable furniture, fixtures and fittings in the home of a person with a specific illness or disability can make a significant difference to that person’s life. What is less well appreciated is that those features of a home can also make life a lot easier for their carer. One item of furniture that can present significant problems is the bed. One that is unsuitable can cause pain and discomfort but one that is suitable can facilitate a good night’s sleep. Centrobed makes a range of beds that are designed to meet the needs of a person who has a specific illness or disability. The carers of children who have such a condition are usually the child’s parents. Many of them have told us that since buying one of our beds their child now sleeps well and they do too.

For example, the mother of a 16 year old boy who has a muscle wasting condition wrote to Centrobed about one of their beds called an ‘Arctic Turning Bed’. It is designed to gently turn the user every half hour. In her letter, the mother said her son had suffered for many years from poor quality sleep but since he started using the ‘Arctic Turning Bed’ he sleeps soundly at night and she wakes up feeling happy and refreshed. She summed up this transformation by saying that “life got better quite literally overnight!” Centrobed will arrange a home demonstration of their beds and hire facilities are available as opposed to outright purchase. Email lisa@centrobed.com for details.

In Britain, the charity Carers UK provides a wealth of information, advice, and support for unpaid and Professional Carers. Its remit is “to listen, to give you expert information and advice that’s tailored to your situation, to champion your rights and support you in finding new ways to manage at home, at work, or wherever you are.” Its website is www.carersuk.org. The company The Good Care Group also has information that carers may find useful. Its website is www.thegoodcaregroup.com.

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