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10 questions to ask someone we think is caring

Illustration of two unpaid carers

As the saying goes, "you only notice something once you start looking for it", also known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It’s true that once we start caring for someone, we might start to spot caring traits in people we know - those who might not know they’re “carers”.

Whether it be them talking about their loved one’s declining health, more of their own time being consumed by appointments or, that they’re dealing with a new diagnosis for a close friend or family member. 

How can we start these caring conversations and share some of our wisdom, all without being intrusive? Perhaps we can think back to when we were new to caring. How would we have wanted to receive tips from others?

We share 10 conversation starters to have with someone we think might be an unpaid carer. Helping them come to terms with the fact they are doing more than the ‘norm’, and know that there is support and a safe community space out there for them.

Why do conversations around caring matter?

By opening up conversations around caring, and asking questions, we’re also opening up a world of support to those who know little about it.

Illustration of chat boxes

From getting over £4,000 in Carer’s Allowance a year, to access to respite, or mobility equipment to make day-to-day caring that bit easier.

Looking after someone can also have a massive toll on our emotional health. AgeUK (2023) reports that over a fifth of us, about 830,000, feel lonely because of caring.

If this is you right now, you’re not alone. Sometimes it can be helpful to read how others have managed to overcome the feeling of loneliness

Things to keep in mind

Let’s go back to the time when we were new to looking after someone, or realised we were ‘carers’. Some of the things we want to be mindful of include:

  • Was it a devastating blow or was it a slow realisation? Did someone tell us or did we work it out ourselves?

  • Did we take time to accept it, or did we resist support and think we had to prove how strong and resilient we are?

  • Did we identify with the word “carer”? Or did we see ourselves as just “Mum, Dad, partner, sister, son, or daughter doing what we should?” 

  • Did we feel like we had suddenly been labelled, or did we have a strong understanding  of what being a carer meant?

Remember that the person we're talking to will be going through all this and possibly more. Let them process it in their own time.

“Even accepting the term (carer) itself is difficult, I still hate it myself but can't think of a better term. The relationship is still the predominant title (daughter) rather than carer”
“The word “carer” doesn’t actually exist in the Vietnamese language. It’s expected that I care for my mum.”

Top tip - Be supportive in our interactions, avoiding confrontational or negative remarks about their role or the person they care for. It’s also helpful to avoid turning the discussion into a venting session about our own experiences.

Top tip - Be selective about timing—start the conversation when they are not in the middle of something or clearly distracted. This ensures that they can give the discussion the attention it deserves without feeling overwhelmed.

10 questions for someone who might be caring

Ten conversation starters we can use to gently approach the topic of caring. 

Illustration to two carers chatting

1. Gently ease in

It’s important to notice if they are happy to speak about it. Often, we might be able to tell by how much they have spoken about the person they’re caring for within a short period of time. 

"I've noticed you seem to be really involved in [person's name]'s daily life. How do you manage everything so smoothly?”

2. Daily routine discussion

We might also notice that the things they do in a day starts to change - whether it be less time for social activities or constantly being on their feet. 

"You often seem really busy with helping out [person's name]. What's a typical day like for you? I do similar things for [person’s name]."

3. Offer some help where we can

They may not want to ask for help, especially if they feel caring is a family obligation. Letting them know we accept help for our caring roles can make them feel more able to do so themselves. 

"It looks like you do a lot for [person's name]. Do you ever get any help with that? I get support from X to help me with looking after [person’s name]. Do you think something like that could help you?"

4. Do a quick stress and self-care check

Often, the many signs of stress and burnout include brain fog, overreacting emotionally, having a poor appetite or self-neglecting personal care. This will look different to each person but it’s helpful to spot when the things that help someone feel able to keep going might be slipping.

"Taking care of [person's name] must be challenging at times. I get it. When was the last time you were able to take care of yourself too/Do you find time to care for yourself too?"

5. Share our experiences

Starting a conversation with our own experiences of caring can be a subtle way to help the other person identify with being a carer. We can also share some of the things that have worked for us. From meal prepping to how we make the most out of the pharmacy. We should be mindful not to turn this into a full vent. As much as that might be what we want in the moment, it is unlikely to help them, 

"I often prepare meals for [person’s name] in batches and it saves us a lot of money. If you’re short on time perhaps I can show you some of the recipes I make?"

6. Check in on how they’re currently feeling

It can be difficult opening up a conversation around feelings. Some gentle prompts can sound like,

"It seems like you spend a lot of time supporting [person's name]. I imagine that’s quite hard. How are you coping on a daily basis?"

7. Share communities and resources that helped us

Joining groups of people going through similar situations might not even occur to someone, especially if they’ve not yet come to terms with the fact they are caring. Perhaps we can start with,

"Do you get the chance to chat with anyone else in a similar situation?" 

Then lead into information about groups.

"There is this online group called Mobilise and it’s for those caring. So many people ask all sorts of caring questions in there and I find it so useful"

8. Acknowledge their efforts

When acknowledging their efforts, we might want to avoid saying phrases such as “You’re doing such a good job”. Other ways we can give praise include,

"[Person's name) is looking great / well / happy. You're clearly looking after them well. Have you ever thought about how much you're actually doing for them?" 

It takes the focus away from "the job", highlights the results, and it can feel far more positive and meaningful.

9. Ask them about their long-term plans

Even if they don’t have the answers, it can help plant seeds for what kind of support they want in the future. From there we can go on to talk about lasting power of attorney or how working might affect caring financially. It might also encourage them to think about getting more support, or looking to widen their caring circle (those helping to provide care).

“What are your hopes for the future regarding [person's name]'s care? Do you think about what you might need down the line?"

10. Encourage self-reflection

As carers, we might tend to get caught up in the daily churn of todos that we forget to take a moment to reflect on what we’re actually doing. This can be one of the challenges for someone in realising they are actually caring. Encouraging them to pause and take a step back is a powerful way to recognise how much they do.

"Have you ever taken a moment to consider how much time and effort you dedicate to [person's name]? It's pretty incredible."
Illustration of living room

What's next?

Depending on who we’re talking to, we can just handpick the most relevant ones and tweak them. Listening to people’s responses and the conversations this opens up is just as important as our conversation starters. It can be tempting to leap straight into advice which can often shut down the conversation with familiar responses such as “we’re not at that stage yet”, “that won’t work for us”, or “I don’t like that sort of thing”. 

Take things one step at a time, we might want to follow up with them in a few weeks for example. It might take a few chats to help them realise they are an unpaid carer. In the meantime, we might want to introduce them to the Mobilise community, or gently share other things that have helped us. 

Finally, whilst part of us wants to help others, it’s just as important to recognise how much we have on our own plate. Choosing when we’re in a good place to have these caring conversations can save us from depleting our own energy at a time when we don't have any spare.

Do you think we’ve missed any helpful conversation starters? Let us know over on the Mobilise Hub.


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