Being a carer is incredibly rewarding but it can at times feel lonely and difficult. If you care for a friend or loved one, there are many organisations and support groups that can help. However, it may also be useful and comforting to get advice from other carers. We spoke to three carers to find out their top pieces of advice for carers.
Julie’s story as a sandwich carer
Julie Simpson is what’s known as a sandwich carer, which means that she cares for both her child as well as a parent. She is a Motability Scheme customer on behalf of her son Joe, who is autistic, and also shares the care of her 84-year-old mother with her brother and sister.
What does being a ‘sandwich carer’ mean?
With life expectancy increasing and families having children at a later stage in life, caring for an elderly parent and a child is becoming more common. Around 1.3 million people are experiencing double-caring routines. Having such a busy caring routine can increase anxiety and depression, which is why it’s essential for “sandwich carers” to focus on their wellbeing to not only take care of themselves, but to give a better and more enjoyable care for their relatives.
Below are top tips for sandwich carers:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Carers will sometimes put the needs of those they care for above their own and not take the time to look after themselves. Julie stresses how important it is to get support that frees up some time to ensure you can take care of yourself, too.
“Find support! Don’t try to do everything on your own,” she advises. “You’re always worrying about them, so you might miss doctor’s appointments or fail to get your flu jab while making sure they get theirs.”
Friends and family members, or even colleagues, may ask if they can help if they know you’ve just become a carer. Even something as small as picking up some shopping for you while they happen to be at the supermarket or cooking for you once in a while can make a huge difference—so don’t be afraid to take them up on their offer and let them know exactly what you need help with.
2. Nurture your relationships
Julie also feels that caring responsibilities can add additional strain to relationships or marriages. As she says, “my husband and I are sometimes like ships that pass in the night.” But this doesn’t have to be the case—you just need to make sure to adapt your relationship to your schedule. For example, if it’s tough to get out in the evening with your partner due to caring responsibilities, Julie suggests daytime dates as an alternative. “We go out together when Joe’s in school. You have to make the time for each other and for yourself.” This is just one solution that works for Julie and it’s important to find what works for your unique situation.
Spending time with loved ones can help to recharge your energy, and give you space to talk about any difficulties you’re struggling with. It can be valuable time spent together, so try wherever you can to make space for your relationships.
It’s important for you to maintain your relationships and interests beyond your caring responsibilities
3. Find opportunities for independence
If possible, it may help the person you care for if you give them certain jobs they can do. This can increase their independence and, of course, you also have extra help. Fiona cares for her husband, Al, a wheelchair user. She explains, “I can do all the shopping in the car but I’ll send him to the other side of town in his scooter to check out prices because it’s useful for me and he feels needed.”
4. Making time for yourself
Julie highlights the importance of finding a hobby or activity that is just for you. For example, she does Yoga classes and Fiona enjoys swimming and playing golf. Activities don’t have to be physical, although exercise can help burn off frustration and, as some carers will candidly admit, anger.
“It’s okay to feel angry,” says Mary, whose partner has Parkinson’s Disease. “Anger is a part of bereavement and sometimes becoming a carer is a bit like a bereavement as you lose parts of the person they were. It’s okay to be angry about that. I think it’s healthy, in fact.”
Finding an activity that you can put into your weekly routine will give you time to yourself and something to focus on throughout the week. Even if you can’t find time to go out and do something, there’s plenty you can do from home like crafting, journaling, reading or having friends and loved ones over. Make time for the things that you enjoy, ultimately it will benefit yourself and the person you’re caring for.
Julie says that it’s very common to feel guilty when you do take time for yourself. “Don’t feel guilty. You’re doing your best for them!”
5. Join a support group
Support groups can also be helpful and a valuable way of doing something for yourself. Many carers find them invaluable, not just for support, but also tips and advice. You can find out more about these groups and more resources available to you with our guide to support for carers.
Of course, support groups aren’t for everyone! “I tried being in a carers group and it was helpful, but I prefer to spend my precious ‘me time’ with friends who aren’t carers so I can get away from my caring role from time to time,” Mary says.
How the Motability Scheme supports carers
Motability Scheme customers can add up to two named drivers so that as their carer, you can use their car to help with getting around, doing shopping, and other tasks to help with caring duties. Find out more about how the Scheme works for carers, appointees and nominees.