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Widening our caring circle

Being a carer often translates to ‘always on duty’. But, being able to hand over the reins, if only for an hour or an afternoon, can make all of the difference to us.

Our circle of caring can be made up of families, friends or neighbours. It can also branch out to our outer network, such as our community, or social services. Before we know it, we have our very own carers support network.

How to ask for help

Know what our ‘ask’ is. If we’re honest, we may find the thought of asking someone else to help difficult (or even draining). We may not want to ‘put it on’ someone else. The stress of explaining everything and that they may not do things the same way that we do. These are all natural thoughts.

On the other hand, others around us who may be able to help can feel unsure about offering help. Stepping into our very capable shoes can be scary. After all, we are experts in looking after our loved ones!

Where we feel unable to reach out to our immediate circle it may be that bringing in befriending services or a care agency would help. But we first need to understand what we are looking for.

Figuring out our ‘ask’?

When thinking about bringing others into our caring circle - let’s call them ‘co-carers’ - it’s useful to understand how we would like this to work.

Here are a few thoughts to get us started:

  • Do we want additional people on hand in the event of an emergency or urgent situation? People who can step in quickly and just get on with it?

  • Do we want someone who we can call on as-and-when, to help out when we need to attend an appointment or just have an impromptu change of scene?

  • Would it be helpful to have a fixed window of time, for example, one morning a week (or more), where we can have a plan to take some time for ourselves?

  • Do we want to have time at home? So during this time, have a co-carer come and help by taking the person we look after out for a visit somewhere?

  • Are there aspects of our caring role that we want to ‘chunk’ out and pass to someone else, whilst retaining other areas of the role? For example, someone who could do the weekly shopping for us, or deal with paperwork, form filling and general ‘life admin’? Someone who can help with moving and handling or take on meal preparation?

  • Are the parts of your household where you could receive support, for example doing the washing, cleaning, gardening or DIY?

Would it be helpful to access a Carer's Assessment or reassessment to address the ‘chunking’ of our caring role?

Maybe we can let go of some aspects of caring and ask for formal help. Whilst keeping the parts of caring that are working well. For example, do we, or the person we look after, prefer a different approach to personal care?

10 top tips to get us started

So, where do we start? Pop the kettle on. Make a cuppa and let’s dive into some things we can try. We don’t have to use all of them in one go. Pick the one that sounds like it can work best right now.

“I wanted to see how much I could do in just 15 minutes. This helped me make a start because I knew I didn’t have time to spend all day on it”

1. Get a friendly tech expert in

Some of today's tasks might require some nifty digital skills to help things get done quicker. If tech is not our forte, that's totally okay - we all start learning from somewhere!

It might help to ask a younger person, neighbour, friend or grandchild to help with using a phone, tablet, joining online activities or how to stream a show. They might be able to show us the "how to's" in seconds, saving us a good amount of time spent figuring it out.

The plus side? We're able to learn from them, and they get to understand us a little more too.

"Mum watches a tablet in bed and I ask her what she wants to watch and she says "what's on? I found that really exasperating but her carers do it for her now as they have more awareness of what's on TV and they store up ideas of things they think she'll like (mostly really gruesome true crime docs about horrific murders!)"

2. Ask those further away to help with online admin

Perhaps some of us have siblings or family members who don't live with us and are unsure of how to help out.

This might be a good opportunity to assign them the "online stuff" that they can do from their homes. Such as paying a water bill online, banking, food ordering, or subscription managing.

These online admin tasks added up can take up a big chunk of our day. So delegating these more achievable tasks to those who live further away can save us some time.

💡 Carer top tip

It might be helpful to streamline things so it's not too spread out across loads of people - so that it's not one more thing for us to manage.

"Over 35 people have our key code, so although we have an army of people helping, the house feels like a motorway at times. I've had two builders, two carers, a district nurse, a podiatrist, a piano teacher, the PA (who only lasted a fortnight) and the Wiltshire Farm Foods lady (who Mum calls Mrs Yorkshire) all in the house at once, all asking me questions."

3. Join an online community

Sometimes, joining a community full of people who are going through the same thing (or have been through it before) can expose us to a lot of shortcuts and wisdom.

It might not always be possible to make time for physical local events or workshops, so online communities might be the way to go. Plus, widening our caring circle is not just about the number of connections but also about the quality of the relationships we build.

Of course, we have our very own friendly Mobilise Community where a bunch of us are asking questions and sharing answers related to caring daily. From incontinence tips to sharing experiences on how and where to find respite, and more.

Join in on the conversations and connect with others - we also have a rich library of free resources to explore.

4. Communicate openly

Depending on our family or relationship dynamic, this can be a tricky one. A build-up of resentment or the need to be in control of everything might stop us from speaking our true thoughts.

There might even be moments when we feel like we've hit a dead end because no one is listening to what we say.

Nonetheless, sharing (and not repressing) our feelings, thoughts, and needs honestly is a healthy thing to do. Perhaps we might want to choose when the right time is to talk or call.

It can be easy to let emotions take over us, so being clear and purposeful with what we want the outcome of the conversation to be, can help us stay grounded and move forwards.

5. Use a ‘one-page profile’ as a starting point

If we’re talking to our friends, extended family or social services, we may want to create a one-page profile as a starting point.

Illustration of man and a clipboard.

It’s a way of getting down on paper the likes, dislikes, communication style, quirks and personality of the person we care for. This is especially helpful if the person we care for is unable to communicate their own needs well.

It gives a great easy-to-digest overview of who they are and how they like things to be. It’s more than just the ‘medical’ things.

It’s also a great place to start a conversation both with the person we care for (where they’re able to) and with a potential co-carer/s.

Other ways we can try to showcase the likes and dislikes of the person we care for:

  • Putting sticky notes on the fridge as helpful reminders

  • Share in conversation what the person we care for is currently into (or does not like) right now

6. Create a ‘Welcome Pack’

A ‘Welcome Pack’ can be kept in our home and include things that someone dipping into caring would need to know. Think like a ‘welcome pack’ when we go on holiday. Those useful tips and tricks to help us feel at home and confident in our surroundings.

Some of the things we can add to our welcome pack include:

  • Introduction to where to find things around the homes (i.e. where to find the wifi password, cleaning equipment, spare loo rolls, snacks)

  • Where the important stuff lives i.e. medication, personal care items, favourite utensils, cleaning equipment, vacuum etc.

  • What X likes or dislikes i.e. what to wear, how drinks are made. A one-page profile can help here

  • Where the medication is kept and how it is stored safely

  • How to move and handle safely

  • Which items of clothing are particular favourites

  • How to manage personal care

  • What they need assistance with i.e. stairs, going outside, putting shoes on.

  • Daily routine/timings - breakfast, activities, going for a walk, nap/relaxation, meals, TV programmes, bedtime

  • Where they like to go for a walk and at what time of day

  • Favourite places to go - cafe, park, library

  • Emergency numbers to plan ahead of an emergency

These are all part of our normal day. The things that we hold in our heads, and when someone else comes to help, these golden nuggets can smooth the way for everyone.

Illustration of living room.

Try our ‘welcome pack’ template

If you’re struggling to get started, we also have a free welcome pack template you might like to use.

The amount of detail we need to include, depends on the level of support the person we care for needs, plus their ability to convey their own needs. We’ll each know what feels right. In some situations, it can be great to produce this together with the person we care for.

7. Identify who can join our caring circle

Often this is other relatives. But can also be close friends and/or neighbours who would like to help but may be unsure about ‘stepping on toes’ or not feeling confident about being able to meet the person we care for’s needs. Consider who we, and the person we care for, would be happy with joining our caring circle.

Things to think about

  • The time they have available. Do they have other commitments?

  • Their existing relationship with us and the person we care for

  • Their strengths i.e. patience, conversation, practical skills, shared interests with the person we care for

  • Will they be able to meet our ‘ask’? - ad hoc, set time each week, an hour, a morning/afternoon, in an emergency?

  • Is a scheduled activity out of the house a good idea? Such as a trip to a cafe for lunch, share a film at the cinema, or a walk in the park? These activities can become part of what the person we care looks forward to each week/month. It also gives us time to ‘just be’ at home

8. Decide on the approach

Once we’re ready to talk to friends and family about joining our caring circle, the initial conversation is important in setting the scene.

Illustration of man deciding on approach.

Think about your ‘ask’ and how to frame this. Some suggestions include:

  • Helping us to cope and being able to continue to care - short breaks can really help

  • The benefits of the person we care for, from having input and stimulation from other people being involved in their day-to-day routine or having something to look forward to each week/month through outings etc.

  • Peace of mind that comes from knowing that others are confident to step in when needed

  • Feeling that someone else could be better placed to take on certain aspects of the caring role (sometimes called “chunking” - e.g. personal care is a chunk)

  • Some days we just need to not be ‘carer’ and to be ‘daughter’, ‘partner’, ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ - this helps us to cope if someone else can take the role of carer for the day or at least part of a day

  • Acknowledge that any conversation is a starting point and start small. Explore options, for example, spending short periods of time alongside us to learn and understand

  • It might be helpful to proactively list the jobs that could help, allowing friends and family to pick something they feel most comfortable with. For example:

    • Batch cook some meals

    • Pick up my daughter/Dad/wife from their club (venue/day/time)

    • Take my daughter/Dad/wife swimming/ to the cinema/ for a drive to the seaside

    • Mow the lawn

    • Take me out for wine or a beer 😉

Often people want to help, but don't know how. We can also be guilty of telling everyone we’re fine. The above ideas might just help us take that first step to reaching out.

Taking account of our loved one’s wishes during this process is important. And where they are able to understand, discussing with them the points above about our own needs can help to move forward the idea of widening our caring circle positively.

The person we care for’s input on who they would like to approach as a co-carer is also a great starting point to helping this work well.

9. “Look and learn”

Once we have someone ready to join our caring circle, it’s time to take some practical steps.

Remember that first job we had as a young person starting out in the world of work? Or when we went on work experience during our final school years?

One of the best ways that we learnt the ropes was to “look and learn”. Shadow our colleagues and observe them as experts by experience. This tried and tested way of developing understanding and confidence can work well in caring too.

For people joining our caring circle, it can feel daunting. With worries about getting things wrong or finding themselves in situations that they don’t feel equipped to deal with.

Agree some time to give co-carers the experience of seeing us do what we do, watching how we manage situations and interact with the person we care for. Let our co-carer/s have a go at things, ask questions and be immersed in all that comes with caring with us at their side to guide.

This helps to develop a common understanding and language around the details of caring. It also shapes our co-carers vision of what their time in our caring circle will look like.

Following some successful co-piloting, it’s time for our co-carer/s to have a go at flying solo!

Take things slowly, a little at a time to build up to where we want to get to. Keep checking in, both with the person we care for and our co-carer to see if things are working well.

Be open-minded to change. Sometimes we need to start over, tweak timings, roles or regularity. But it really can be worth the effort and provide a great source of support, reassurance and respite.

Along with bringing co-carers into our caring circle can also come the acceptance that others may not quite do things in the same way that we do.

The final word

There's a lot to take in here and we've gone into detail to help consider all the options that might be available. The most important step is to get started. Grab a sheet of paper and run through the following:

Letting go of some of this can be challenging but with it comes the benefits of all that additional support can bring. A helpful mantra can be ‘good enough is good enough’. Understanding what is our standard of ‘good enough' and accepting that this may not naturally be ‘our way’, is something to work on!

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1 Comment

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