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The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Issues Encountered by Family Carers of the Elderly

25th January 2013

Co-founders of Myagingparents.com, Alex Ingram and Deborah Stone, on the challenges of caring for the elderly

Caring for ageing parents can put a huge strain on families, particularly those people who may also be looking after young children at the same time. There are both emotional and financial implications to negotiate, and if the parent or parents being looked after have a degenerative condition, such as Alzheimer’s, those caring for them can feel overwhelmed by the responsibility and unsure how best to meet the needs of their parent and their own family at the same time.

This problem is one that increasing numbers of families will have to face as the UK population ages. By 2034, 23% of the population is projected to be aged 65 and over, compared to only 18% being aged under 16 and over 3 million people are projected to be over the age of 80. Currently there are 750,000 people in the UK with dementia, of which two thirds are women. The number of older people in the UK in need of care and support is expected to reach 1.7 million over the next 20 years, and it is estimated that by 2025, over one million people will have dementia, which is a truly terrifying statistic.

Many of these people are already looked after by family members. It’s estimated that family carers save the state around £6 billion a year and that currently 12% of the adult population in the UK is a carer of an elderly relative. With a stagnant economy, austerity measures and budget cuts to all major services, including care, the state may not be able to provide care for all individuals and more and more families will need to care for their elderly relatives, as well as work for a living and care for their young families. These carers will themselves need to work for longer to help the state fund the needs of this ageing population.

‘Elderly Parent Responsibility Stress Syndrome’ (or EPRSS) has been coined as a phrase to describe how many of us feel when faced with the idea of caring for ageing parents. Whilst not all families will find themselves in extremely stressful situations as they adjust to looking after an elderly parent, taking on more responsibility for their parents does have significant emotional implications. Sometimes, caring for an elderly parent can add responsibility just at the point that children leave home and people might have had more time on their hands, leading to resentment. Often just broaching the subject of care with a parent can be fraught with difficulty, particularly if a parent is struggling to maintain their own independence and unwilling to admit they need help. Caring for a parent can add significant financial strain for families, as care of any sort is expensive and local authority budgets are means tested, taking into account all assets.
Many family carers keep their fears, worries and guilt to themselves but sharing concerns, anxieties and experiences with others is critical. Telling others of their care issues and concerns means that other people can often help, even if it’s only by lending a supportive ear for a while. In order to deal effectively with the decisions in an informed way, based on a parent’s needs, talk to their GP and if the carer is struggling to cope with stress, they should talk to their GP as well. Local authorities are also there to help. It’s preferable to understand what options a GP and local authority might be able to provide before contacting them, so that the carer can be authoritative and ensure the best care for their parent.

In this way, family carers can consider what care options are available to them. Can their parent remain in their own home and if so, what kind of support do they need? Can this be provided via the local authority and is the standard of care what they would hope for? Helping a parent remain at home for as long as possible generally keeps them happier and more secure and in the case of dementia, can help maintain their memories by remaining in familiar surroundings, but home care is sometimes not enough.

Another option is to bring their parent to live with them, but this can put strain on their family relationships. People must be realistic about how much time it might take to care for their parent at home and how their relationship with their own family might suffer. They may have to adapt their homes and deal with intimate personal care, which both they and their parent might find distressing. However, there are some benefits to having a parent at home. It’s easier to oversee the care of a parent and ensure they have company, pleasant surroundings, get taken out, eat properly and receive plenty of personal care, attention and love. There might also be less financial stress for the parent if they live with their children, as they become older and less able to cope with their personal affairs. Bringing a parent into the home means that the family carer will not have to travel backwards and forward to care for them, or make expensive financial arrangements for their care and hopefully can enjoy precious time with their parent, as can their children. Caring from a distance can be a huge strain on families and the guilt factor is ever-present. People can muster local help and assist with online shopping, and keep in touch by Skype, but if someone lives any distance away from their parent, the caring options and emotional issues are even more complicated. People also come up against family disagreements at this point about what is best for their parent and old sibling rivalries can often rear their heads.
If bringing a parent to live at home is not a viable option, and it often isn’t, then it may be necessary to consider care home options – again, these decisions are fraught with guilt and worry about quality of care and happiness of the older person. If a care home is necessary, it’s important to take time to visit the options available and not to be afraid to ask as many questions as needed to ensure that the home will be the right environment and level of care up to standard. Visiting at meal times can be a real eye-opener. There is a huge range of options available in terms of care homes, ranging from sheltered housing, retirement villages, care homes with or without nursing care and hospices for the terminally ill.

For more help with caring for your elderly parent, visit www.myageingparent.com, a comprehensive website aimed at helping you hep your elderly parent by giving you all the information you might need in one place.

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