The importance of taking a break if you’re a carer

Caring can be more of all-encompassing lifestyle choice rather than a job although it’s also hugely rewarding, but as it’s not 9 to 5. You don’t necessarily get weekends and evenings to yourself to rest. There are 6.5 million carers in the UK* and they all deserve a break now and then.

As caring is so important, it’s crucial you bring your A-game and that means making self-care a priority. It may feel counter-intuitive, but it will benefit everyone in the long run. Respite care is temporary care and can be an invaluable break for everyone involved. There’s no need to feel guilty that you’re leaving your loved one with strangers as respite care is always tailored to make sure that it’s a safe and welcoming environment. Whether it’s for an emergency, weekend breaks or a well-deserved two-week holiday, respite care is an option you can rely on.

Credit: @autism.with.no.limits Instagram

ACCESS

Jacqui Darlington is a full-time carer for her son Joshua, 30, who has Down’s syndrome and is on the autistic spectrum. Her respite care is part-subsidised through her local authority, and she gets a certain amount of respite which can be used for three hours a week or banked over the space of a month and used for a day or more over the weekend.

Jacqui receives direct payments which allow her an element of choice when it comes to arranging the personal assistant who looks a er Joshua while she has some time to herself. “I would recommend that other carers come forward for support in their area in order to see what help may be available to allow them to access a break,” she says.

There are lots of ways to access respite. Your local authority may be able to provide respite care for you. To see if you’re eligible, you need to have a carer’s assessment, or the person you care for needs to have a carer’s assessment, in which a trained professional will ask questions about the affect caring has on your life. The other option is to go private and contact respite homes or respite carers directly.

“Joshua doesn’t go into a respite home or residential care, but he stays with a former teacher, who has now been his personal assistant for six years. She knows him really well,” says Jacqui.

Coming forward for support from your local authority is really important. “Some local authorities, like mine in Rutland, also have databases of information on personal assistants in the area which can help you pick the right care for the times when you’re having a break,” says Jacqui.

Sometimes it can be hard to find a PA. Agencies can be useful but they can  make the total cost of care more expensive as the fee on top of the hourly cost is sometimes between £5-10 extra and that can often price people out. “For me, word of mouth, through networks of support such as carers groups or my own friends, is a great way of finding somebody who can be trusted to look after Joshua,” says Jacqui.
LETTING GO

It’s hard to relax and enjoy your time off, especially when you feel guilty you’re not caring for your loved one. You may feel caring is your responsibility, and it’s one you’re shirking for a few moments of self-indulgence.

While guilt is a normal feeling to have, it’s not helpful or true. Even though Joshua was going to stay with someone he has a long established relationship with, it was initially difficult for Jacqui to switch off. “When Joshua first got respite care, I was very concerned,” recalls Jacqui. “It was the first time I had left him overnight with someone who wasn’t a family member. I went abroad with my friends for the weekend, who were also carers, but I was worried. I had every single possible contingency plan going in case anything went wrong, but it all turned out brilliantly!”

Jacqui advocates patience and preparation. “I definitely had reservations at first, but you need to persevere even if you’re feeling guilty or worried,” says Jacqui. “If something goes wrong the first time, or you get called up by the respite carer a lot because they’re new to looking after the person, it’s important to keep giving yourself a chance to access a break in spite of this.

It does eventually get easier for you, and for the carer looking after your loved one in the end. It does pay off.”

SELF-CARE

Like they say on airplanes, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you put one on someone else. Looking after yourself is different for everyone – for many it might include a night out on the town, while others might prefer a lie-in. Remember that it’s your break, no one else’s. “My family often tell me to go out and do something during my break, but sometimes you have to rest and that’s fine, too,” says Jacqui. “I often just use the time to sleep. It’s your time, and if that’s all you want to do, enjoy it without feeling like you have to go wild!

Some people clean the house top-to-toe and others go to spa days: it doesn’t matter. You just have to address what your own needs are at the time.”

Jacqui loves caring: the best part of looking after Joshua is watching him achieve new goals and skills that she knew he was capable of. “Even simple things, like him being able to go to the shops can feel hard because you can see the dangers, but sometimes as a carer you need to let them experience these things,” says Jacqui. “The hardest thing, for me, is always having to judge his mood…You’re always looking to avoid negative reactions and encourage positive reactions, but that can be tiring which is why taking a carers’ break is so important.”

The Soldiers’ Charity and respite care

The Soldiers’ Charity is the British Army’s National Charity, helping soldiers, veterans and families from every conflict. Last year, it awarded a grant of over £50,000 to Revitalise, enabling them to provide more than 145 disabled ex-service personnel and their carers with well-deserved holiday breaks.

Revitalise is a charity that specialises in providing respite support to people who need the reassurance of 24-hour, on-call, nurse-led care in order to have a proper holiday.

For more information, visit their website.

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