Caring for Family & Friends
At Bluebird Care UK we understand how difficult it can be when you need to find a way of caring for family members and/or friends who need regular care and support.
I wish I could be there but I just can't."
We frequently hear this from adult children, relatives or friends who feel helpless and guilty because they can’t do more.
You will no doubt have many questions: What does my relative or friend need? How does this fit with what they say they want? Do they need nursing care? Should I arrange home care support? How much time will I need to take off from work? How can I best use my resources to help? Who else can offer support? What can I do from so far away?
Read Bluebird Care’s suggestions to help you navigate through some of the challenges you are likely to face when caring for family and friends.
Plan for the future
Some medical conditions can affect a person’s mental capacity to make all of their own decisions. If you are considering caring for family and / or friends who have been diagnosed with a degenerative condition it is better to plan for the future now.
As our abilities decline our instinct is to fight hard to maintain control. People will often endeavour to hold onto their independence by covering up areas of debility. Planning care and support can then become a sensitive topic which is difficult to openly discuss. Early conversations can help to avoid these situations. They provide an opportunity for people to convey what is most important to them and to keep control of how their future care and support is managed.
You may wish to help your loved one to:
- Write a statement of their wishes and preferences
- Give a trusted person power of attorney in relation to either/ or both of their financial and property affairs or future decisions about their health and welfare
- Create an advance decision to refuse specific types of medical treatments.
By supporting your relative or friend to plan for the future, you can avoid the emotional conflict of second guessing what their wishes would have been. This way, when you are caring for family members and / or friends, your roles and responsibilities will be clearer. For example your loved one can choose who will manage their financial affairs or make decisions about their care and support. This helps families to feel confident that they are doing the right thing at the right time. Remember, being next of kin does not automatically confer any legal authority to handle your relative’s affairs.
See our pages on ‘Planning for your future’ for more information on how the law helps you to do this.
Support the person to keep control
The first step is to identify what needs to be done.
It’s important to support your relative or friend to make their own decisions as far as they are able. With good intentions it’s easy to fall into the trap of problem solving without involving the person who needs care and support. So try to avoid making assumptions about the best way to help.
What you need to find out when caring for family and friends
Talk to your loved one about their situation. Find out about their goals, what support they would like to achieve these and how they would like you to help them. Gather together as much information as possible to gain a balanced and clear picture. Focus on what they are able to do as well as areas of difficulty. Your aim is to understand their day to day living experience.
Bluebird Care’s useful prompts
During this conversation you may wish to find out more about some of the following areas:
- Lifestyle and what is important to them
- What they would like to achieve with care and support
- Key contacts including their support network, friends and family, legal representatives, health and social care professionals
- Whether they are they able to keep in touch with friends, family and the social activities they enjoy
- Health needs, for example, treatment for long term conditions. Whether they have had a health review in the last 12 months?
- Whether they have any special communication needs. For example, do they use a hearing aid and has this been checked recently?
- What medication do they regularly take? Are they able to obtain repeat prescriptions when they need them? Any other concerns regarding their medicines?
- Are they eating and drinking well?
- If they are able to manage all their personal care such as washing and dressing
- Are they experiencing any difficulty with their mobility? If so, have they received an assessment for suitable equipment and adaptations?
- Do they need support with shopping?
- Can they manage their finances and pay their bills etc.? Do they have enough money coming in each week? Are they getting their entitlement to benefits?
- Can they manage their housework?
- Are there any concerns for their safety?
When caring for family and friends, with their permission you can arrange for:
- An assessment of care and support needs by the local authority adult social care department
- An assessment of health needs via the GP, who can refer you on for more specialist advice if needed. For example, memory clinics, continence advisors, physiotherapists, district nursing services, etc.
- A visit from their local Bluebird Care registered manager who can tell them about a range of home care services to meet their specific needs
Organise the right care and support
The second step is to identify resources to provide the best care and support and create an overall plan.
Running our own lives is complicated enough, but trying to take care of someone else requires even more organisation and planning! Things will run more smoothly if you work together with other members of the family, close friends and care professionals.
With the person’s agreement, arrange a meeting and create a working plan. A face to face meeting is an ideal opportunity to share information, agree what needs to happen and assign tasks and responsibilities. For example, who will be the link with the social worker? Who will contact the GP? Consider establishing an on line support community so that everyone is kept up to date without the need for several individual conversations
Carefully think about what you are realistically able to do so that you do not put too much strain on yourself. If you live further away, you may find it easier to take on liaison tasks leaving day to day practical caring support for family and friends who live closer.
Getting the paperwork sorted!
Create a folder where you can keep together key information. This might include:
- Keeping track of medical appointments and health related information
- Matters to do with household management
- Important social contacts and activities
- Finances e.g. any assets, benefits and pension numbers, loans and credit card numbers, bank details, whether there is a will and if so where, who holds access to cash for every day needs, etc.
Paid care and support
The third step is to consider whether you will need paid care and support for your relative or friend and how this will be funded.
You may be entitled to financial help towards the cost of a care worker. Who pays and how much will depend the type and amount of care and support your relative or friend needs and the amount of money they have.
See our ‘Help with Funding’ for advice.
You will also need to decide whether you wish to directly employ a personal assistant yourself or if you want to use the services of a domiciliary care agency.
Read ‘Arranging Care’ for more information about these options.
Support for yourself
The fourth step is to make arrangements to facilitate your role as a carer.
Employment issues you may face when caring for family and friends
If you are caring for family members and/or friends, you may need to take time off from work at short notice. Talk to your manager or Human Resources Department so they are aware of the situation. Check your company’s policies, you may be entitled to special leave. It may be a good idea to keep some annual leave in reserve to cover any emergencies.
Once you have clarified how you are going to offer support, you may need to consider travel arrangements. For example, if you will be regularly travelling long distances, avoid paying extra costs by finding out about ticketing options.
Support for yourself
Remember that caring for your family and friends is not the end of the story. It is important to think about support groups for you, too. These may help you to manage stress or emotional struggles as a result of your loved one’s condition.
Keep in touch
The fifth step is to think about the best ways to keep in touch with your friend or relative.
Caring for your family and friends can be as simple as staying in touch with your loved one so they feel valued and important. Declining mobility often diminishes social contact. This often leads to feelings of isolation and depression which can exacerbate other health conditions.
Keeping them updated with family news can really make a difference. This doesn’t have to be face to face contact. You may want to send cards, emails, family photographs, and letters or, if you have children get them to send their pictures. Make regular telephone calls or set up video calls using Skype or other similar services.
This may not be a substitute for personal contact, however, so you may want to explore whether there are any local groups who can offer face to face contact. This might include voluntary group offering home visits or taking people out, day centres or lunch clubs.
Staying in touch will help you to pick up on any emerging concerns or cues to indicate that your loved one is not quite themselves.
When you do visit, plan ahead how you need to use the time so that you do not set unrealistic expectations. You may find that providing a caring environment for members of your family and friends is easier if you focus on arranging support that cannot be given from afar and what is likely to have the most benefit. For example, it may be better to pay someone to do household chores and you use your time to take your loved one out, sit and have tea or listen to music together. If you are taking the person to medical appointments writing down a list of questions beforehand can help to make sure that you don’t forget anything you need to ask.