Caring for carers - what help is available?
- Credit: James Brenchley
A carer who makes an 80-mile round trip every day to look after his mum in Sidmouth is appealing for people in a similar situation to seek the help they are entitled to.
People across the UK have been pulling together during the coronavirus pandemic in ways that are impacting across society but also changing responsibilities.
One of those people is former carer support officer James Brenchley who now looks after his mum Cathy.
The 38-year-old gave up his job to take care of her after becoming concerned about the risks from paid-for carers visiting during lockdown when she picked up a chest infection.
Cathy suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease which, on top of attacking her joints resulting in all of her major joints having to be replaced, has left her immune system severely compromised.
The 70-year-old has also dealt with pneumonia, stroke, osteoporosis, kidney failure and seizures in the past few years, as well as cancer and is often in and out of hospital.
“Thankfully my mum’s infection did not turn out to be coronavirus, but I realised at this point that we could not continue with our paid team of carers coming into the property, as the risk of transmission was too great,” said James
From April to December last year James continued to work full time from home, while caring for his mum. However, he got to the point where he could no longer carry on and reached ‘carer breakdown’.
He said: “At this point I had to give up my paid job, as the focus has always been on keeping mum safe and healthy.”
From making an extra meal, to buying essentials, almost half (48%) of people in the UK said that they provided help or support to someone outside of their household in the first month of lockdown in April 2020.
This is a substantial increase since before the pandemic where just over 1 in 10 (11%) adults reported providing some regular service or help for a sick, disabled, or elderly person not living with them during 2017 to 2018.
Fortunately, through his previous role at Devon Carers, James was more aware than most of the support that’s available to carers.
“When things became increasingly difficult with mum, I was able to draw, not just on the support of my friends, family, and community, but also on my own professional experience,” he said.
James has received help from a number of organisations, such as Carers UK who gave him employment and legal rights advice. The Devon Carers service provided him with one-to-one emotional and practical support, such as helping to organise a cleaner for his mum. And Citizens Advice Bureaux advised James about his financial situation, including benefit entitlements.
Carers themselves are entitled, under the Care Act 2014, to an assessment of their own needs, separate from their cared-for person.
James explained that “often, carers put their own needs to one side to focus on the person they care for, but their own needs are so very important too. If they succumb to stress with what is now termed 'carer breakdown', then the cared-for person will inevitably struggle as a result. This is why it is critically important for carers to access the support to which they are entitled, as soon as possible.”
As well as receiving professional help, James has a very supportive sister, Sian Brenchley, and an aunt and uncles from London, who all help where they can.
He is especially grateful to the residents of Primley Road who have been there to support his mum in his absence.
James, who lives in Okehampton, said: “From a retired nurse who offered to volunteer her time to help mum, to a gentleman who was kind enough to collect prescriptions on mum's behalf, the support we've had from the neighbourhood has been brilliant. It is a testimony, I think, to the community spirit of Sidmouth in general.
“I’m doing better now, but only because of the support I’ve received from charities, family and from my community.
“I want to let carers in Sidmouth who are struggling, and maybe feeling isolated, know that there is support out there to help them. They are entitled to an assessment of their needs, with Devon County Council via the charitable organisation Devon Carers (03456 434 435).
They can carry this assessment out via telephone or telecall and talk to carer support officers who really understand carers and the struggles they face.
“If readers have a carer in their community, perhaps in their family or living nearby, please check in on them and offer your support, it will mean a lot to them and perhaps make them feel less like they are dealing with everything alone.”