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Are you an anticipatory carer? Top tips for planning ahead 

In the UK, there are around 10.6 million people providing unpaid care, but there are also thousands of others who are likely to be caring for a family member or friend at some point.


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Whether it’s parents getting older, a partner’s health declining, or a sibling who needs our support, the thought of stepping into a new care role can be a big worry. 


We might already be caring, or we may be in a situation where care is not part of our daily life right now. Maybe we've never really thought about what caring involves or how it could impact our life. Or, we may not want to step into the care role at all. 


That’s OK. There's no right or wrong way to feel. But taking small steps now can help us feel better prepared for whatever the future holds.




When anticipatory care roles might crop up

In our recent Mobilise Moment (April 2024), over 50% of us see another role coming our way. Here are some ways that new caring roles can appear:


  • Our parents getting older 

  • Caring for a sibling if parents get older

  • Caring for an elderly relative or neighbour

  • Caring for our partner as we age

  • Caring for a child whose needs might change over time

  • Taking over the caring when the main carer passes away



Why it’s important to talk and think ahead

Whether it’s our choice to become a carer or not, talking and thinking about the future can help us to feel prepared for what’s to come. It might also take a while before we get used to calling ourselves ‘carers’.


1. It relieves stress and anxiety

Caring for family members or friends can be a rewarding experience. But it can also bring changes to our social lives, our work and our ways of living. We can feel big emotions towards the person we’re caring for as we navigate these changes. And we might feel overwhelmed by what’s to come.


It’s very normal to feel worried and anxious about an unknown future. But avoiding conversations about the practical aspects of caring can often make feelings of anxiety worse, and might even lead to burnout.


Even if we’re already caring for someone, it's normal to get overwhelmed by the possibility of adding more responsibilities to our plate. Every care situation is different - and just because we're caring already doesn't mean it's easier for us.


Being able to plan ahead for some aspects of our future can help us to adjust later on, even if that’s just thinking about where we’ll live or deciding who will help us to care.


2. We might get more support

Acknowledging that we’re going to become a carer might mean we get extra support too – such as financial benefits or hands-on help. Our guide to carer finances covers all of the benefits unpaid carers can access when they register as a carer.


3. We can set expectations

It's important to address the unspoken assumptions in families too. Sometimes, when someone needs care, others might assume we’ll will step in. This can lead to a lot stress and resentment - especially if know we can’t take on the role for our own reasons.


So, it's important to talk openly with the whole family early on. We need to discuss what caring involves and who's willing and able to do it. This helps to make sure everyone's needs and limits are considered.


"When another member of my family was diagnosed with the same condition as my husband I felt it was important to check-in with the rest of the family around expectations and to make sure I didn't just naturally ‘take over too. My first step wes to set up a family WhatsApp group to share information and next steps.”


Anna’s Story: When Anna’s sister was born with Down’s Syndrome, her family had to adapt to a new future.


Illustration of a girl's face

“When my sister Erin was born, I was just 10 years old. It's hard to remember a time when I wasn't both a big sister and a carer. As siblings, we are very close and I feel incredibly lucky to have her in my life.


“Over the years, our family life has adapted to meet Erin's needs. She needs a wheelchair for mobility, and more recently, we’ve adjusted to her autism diagnosis.

Now, as an adult, my home visits slot into Erin's busy schedule of clubs, social events and learning centres.


“I love my sister, and I'd do anything to ensure her happiness and wellbeing in the future. But thinking about the practicalities of becoming her carer can sometimes feel overwhelming.


Right now, my parents handle all of her needs, and it's a full-time job. I'm constantly amazed by their energy and organisation to keep everything running smoothly. I wonder about where we'll live, how I'll balance work and care and how any changes to my parents' health might affect Erin.


“It’s hard to speak to my parents about it. They have made arrangements in their will to ensure Erin is taken care of independently, but I worry that might not match her wishes or mine. In my opinion, she will always need family - the people who love and support her - around her always. And if their health declines, I also worry about looking after them too.”



11 top tips for preparing for a new caring role


1. Read ahead

Start by reading our practical tips for new carers, written by carers in our community on the things they wish they had known. It covers the five big things to do at the start of a caring role - from accessing support to taking time for ourselves.  


“You still have a chance to think of you now.”

2. Identify the challenges

What parts of this care role will be difficult for us to manage? Even if we’re caring already, it’s helpful to think about whether this role might differ from our current one. 


Here are some prompts to get us thinking:

  • How much spare time do I currently have for me?

  • Is their GP far away, and how do I get in touch?

  • Will my workplace give me flexible hours for appointments/caring?

  • What are the important documents I need to know about? (i.e. prescriptions/benefits)

  • How is my own mental and physical health right now?

  • Are we thinking of starting a family (or how will our existing family dynamic change)?


“Consider what time of day will they most need support and what can be prepped for later so you don’t physically need to be there.”

Write down the challenges we might face, and where we might be able to get support. 


3. Check-in with our feelings

Knowing we’ll need to care in the future can bring on a range of difficult emotions. We might feel sadness and guilt - or resentment at needing to change our life plans.


“It's not just the choice to have children, it's also the cost to career, ability to buy a home, loss of social and professional networks. There is a huge future loss associated with young adults (in their 20s and 30s) who have to put on hold life”

All of these emotions are valid. We have a guide to making friends with feelings that can help with the emotional weight of anticipatory caring. 


Illustration of a conversation

4. Have conversations around future planning

It might seem obvious, but have we sat down and talked about the future? Having an honest and open conversation can be a big step to feeling more prepared. This could be with the person we’ll need to care for, their current carer or our own families. 


“My partner and I have wanted to start a family of our own but it’s very likely to be too late now, and money-wise it’ll be tricky”

Sometimes, conversations around future care can be difficult. It's understandable if people find it difficult to discuss big changes, especially if their health is likely to worsen or if they may no longer be around to provide care. But our feelings matter too, and we deserve to feel prepared for what’s ahead.


These four steps can help us to approach these difficult conversations:


  • Ask questions with an open mind: Ask about their plans for the future and let them speak without interrupting. If they don't want to talk, calmly explain why it's important to be prepared. Let them know we're trying to improve things, not blame anyone. Show them how talking now will help to reduce more stress and worry down the line.

  • Acknowledge how they feel: After they've shared their thoughts, show we understand them and thank them for talking - it may have been very difficult for them to open up.

  • Now it's our turn to ask questions: Respect their views while explaining our own. For example, "You mentioned xyz, how would that work in real life?" or "I agree with the idea of supported living, but how will we pay for it?"

  • Focus on finding solutions together: Highlight the good aspects of the conversation and build on them. If things get heated, go back to asking questions calmly. Remember, it's not about winning an argument. Even if we're frustrated, keep the conversation focused on getting the information we need to feel better.


It can be very hard if the current carer or the person we'll be caring for doesn't understand our feelings. Remember: they’re dealing with their own emotions and might not have the capacity to understand how it’s impacting us.


If we need someone to talk to who understands, we have a guide to accessing outside support. 



5. Write down a plan

Anticipating care can bring up a lot of logistical questions. Sit down together and make a plan for the future. Write it down so everyone has a copy. This plan can include things like finances, medications, schedules and daily routines. 


Having this information written down can relieve a lot of anxiety. Plus, if there's ever an emergency, we'll all know what to do because we have a copy of the plan. In the caring world, we call this an ‘emergency plan’, and we’ve created a simple template to help get started. 


6. Have carer settling in days

Caring for someone is like starting a new job - there’s lots to learn and we get better over time with practice and experience.


If the person we'll be caring for already has assistance, consider spending a couple hours or a day shadowing the current carer to get a deeper understanding of the role and responsibilities involved. Including managing medication, transport, cooking or personal care.


We know that personal care can be a whole topic on it’s own! Particularly when we’re new to caring for the opposite sex. So here a few carer guides (written with the help of our community) that we might want to have up our sleeves:



7. Get our finances in order

It's the administrative stuff that many people don't enjoy, but knowing we'll be financially supported can ease our worries. This includes things like creating wills, setting up trusts, and planning our estate. You can check out our blog on wills and trusts for more information. 


Additionally, we have a financial checklist available, which can help us identify what we're eligible for. If we find this task challenging, we can ask a family member or friend to assist us.

Illustration of a person on a laptop

8. Set up a future care plan

Having a plan in place ensures we have the support we need when we need it. Reach out to our family and friends to figure out who will be there to help us. This is especially important if we're a young carer who will need support while juggling studies. 


“For some of us it’s possible juggle both, please put yourself first on this. I am a carer of my dad but have managed to have 5 children. I am so glad I did.”

9. Adapt our goals

Many people feel resentful about taking on carer responsibilities because they fear it will stop their plans and goals. It might help to write down our goals for the next five or ten years. We could prioritise the ones that we can't do while caring, like travelling abroad, so we don't regret it later.


At the same time, we can explore if there are ways to adapt our goals to work with our future care role. For example, if we can't work in-house at our dream job in a city, could we do it freelance instead? Anticipatory care can sometimes be beneficial because it pushes us to take action now instead of waiting. Consider how we can make our goals work for us, even with our carer responsibilities,


10. Learn from others who have been there

Our Mobilise Hub and Cuppas are a place to chat with other carers who have transitioned from anticipatory caring to fully fledged carer roles. Sharing experiences and tips with others who have been through similar journeys can be incredibly helpful and reassuring. 


“A moment of overwhelm is understanding, ride the wave, surf it out. If you need help ask for it, don't be afraid and don't go there thinking you have failed if you need to ask”
“It’s good to voice your feelings. All the things we do for our loved ones can be all consuming.”

11. Set healthy boundaries

Anticipating care can take its toll emotionally. It's important to recognise our limits and prioritise our own wellbeing. We can find more information on this topic by checking out our piece on setting boundaries.



What if we don’t want to take on the care role?

In the UK, we have the right to refuse a care role. Caring for someone is a big responsibility, and it's important to consider our own wellbeing, circumstances and capacity. If we feel that we are unable or unwilling to take on a care role, we have the right to decline.


It's important to communicate our decision respectfully and clearly, and to explore alternative arrangements for the care of the person in need. Our feelings matter, and there’s do too. Our guide to carers rights has more information on refusing a care role.



A final word

Anticipating a new care role can feel overwhelming, but breaking it down with these steps can help us to feel more in control of our future. We understand the complexities and challenges involved, and together we can work through these, by offering advice and help. 


If we've found this blog helpful, we encourage passing it on to anticipatory carers who may benefit from its insights. They may also want to consider joining the Mobilise Hub to connect with a supportive community and learn from the collective knowledge of carers who can relate to all they’re going through.

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