Caring for the Elderly
The UK population grew by half a million last year to 65.1 million, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. Of that number 10% are over 75 years old. At present there are 6.5 million carers in the UK, many of whom are coping with an aging parent(s). As healthcare in the UK improves overall life expectancy, the population is rapidly aging which means that every year over 2.1 million adults become carers (although almost as many people find that their caring responsibilities come to an end). This turnover means that most families in the UK face this issue at some time and 3 in 5 people will become carers during their lives.
This spring, due to my 85 year old Mother’s declining mobility, I became her carer. My Mother is now Registered Disabled and I’ve taken early retirement from work to attend to her needs. Being self-employed it made sense for me to adopt this role, rather than my sister who has worked full time for civil service for the last thirty years. Changing her working practises now would have a major impact upon her pension and future prosperity. So I now focus on my Mother’s care and visit daily. I get a respite on weekends as my Sister takes the lead. My finances are in order and I work occasionally to ensure my economic stability. I have also moved to be nearer to my parents.
At present my caring duties are mainly administrative and logistical. I do paperwork, arrange appointments and do household chores. Once a week I take my Mother out in her wheelchair so she can visit the shops and have her hair done. Effectively I have taken on many of the duties normally carried out by my Father who can no longer do them due to old age. Neither of my parents have a single overarching medical problem, just a plethora of minor ailments that collectively impair the quality of their lives. At present through me and my Sisters intervention, a status quo is maintained. However this is not something that will continue indefinitely. Sadly the long term prognosis is that my parent’s health will continue to decline.
Something I have learned of late is that caring is more than just providing the practical support that the old need. There are other factors to consider such as my parents emotional well being. Both are fiercely independent and are far from comfortable with being reliant on others. That terrible phrase about “being a burden” comes up from time to time. There is also a lot of frustration because being old and feeling old are not the same thing. Therefore I endeavour to help my parents with good grace. I try not to get frustrated when they fret over minor things as I realise that it is not I who is relinquishing control of day to day matters. As far as I’m concerned my parents took care of me as a child and have always been there for me throughout my adult life, so it is only right and proper that I now address their needs.
Carers such as myself are far from saints. We’re just regular people trying to get by. We grumble and gripe with regard to our lot from time to time. There are arguments with are loved ones on occasions simply due to the stress all are subject to. Luckily there is support out there from fellow carers, charities, local authorities and even central government. My advice to all concerned is to put your pride in your pocket and take any help you can find. If you in turn can assist someone else then do so. The slightest assistance is often invaluable. Healthcare services often only covers emergencies but at least in the UK the government is canny enough to realise it’s more cost effective to help carers while in the home, before there’s a need for a hospital.
This week my Father took a turn for the worse. In the space of seven days he’s gone from being out and about to bed ridden. Again he doesn’t have any new medical problems but his existing ones just seem to be getting worse. At nearly 87 there’s a chance that he may well recover but there is also scope for things to deteriorate. Everything that can be done is being done so it really just comes down to a waiting game. At present I see it as my duty to keep the home ticking over and maintain a sense of order and calm. I try to keep a positive disposition as fear can be contagious and counterproductive.
There are many carers who have to cope with far more than me. However sharing my story has helped me order my own thoughts and provides a degree of catharsis. Perhaps I can in some small way provide some sort of help or support to others who are experiencing a similar situation or just embarking upon this challenging journey. I don’t have many words of wisdom to offer. I think the most important thing you can do is to have a frank and candid discussion with those that you are caring for. It helps clear the air. I find having a routine is also invaluable. It allows me to cope with the daily tasks. Also consider your loved ones feelings and reassure them that you’re motivated by love. I want my parents around irrespective of their health because I enjoy their company so. I think it’s essential to keep a sense of humour and laugh together at the absurdity of the situation.
If you and your parents are still relatively young, I guess the notion of caring for them may seem years away. However time has a terrible habit of running away from you and the next thing you know twenty five years have rolled by. It is also a sad fact that illness and infirmity can strike at any age. So it never does any harm to be prepared to some degree. The current economic climate may not lend itself to saving or paying for an insurance policy but I would urge all too at least consider the possibility of becoming a carer at some point. Therefore make whatever provision you can. I suspect that the statistic of 3 in 5 people becoming carers at some point will only get larger in the years to come.