Insights: Carers Week 8th-15th June

A reflection on the stress and guilt around caring

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Louise Rogerson Photo

This week is Carers Week and it is a time for us all to stop and reflect on the challenge carers face on a daily basis.  One of the most striking things we have seen with the Frailty Project is that spouses often fail to recognise that they are carers because they view their support as part of their relationship.  “I am not a formal carer” is something we have heard a number of times, and in some cases it is a label people avoid.

Being a carer is a challenging position, and our work with Manchester Carers Forum clearly demonstrates the difference that the relationship to the person being cared for makes.  It is a very different proposition caring for a spouse than caring for a parent or caring for a friend.  In our interactions with carers we need to respect their own way of dealing with the position they find themselves in, but we also need to offer support in the best way we can.

In my work as a physiotherapist I see first hand the stress that caring brings to a partnership.  There is guilt on both sides of the equation, guilt which can often result in anger and miscommunication.  In one particular situation my patient felt guilty that they had become a burden.   Acknowledging how much their partner was doing for them meant facing their own lack of independence.  The carer felt guilty about doing things for themselves or asking for help from others as this made them feel they were letting their partner down.

As part of their support team I encouraged them both to seek out help, and to make use of the resources on offer.  Although still incredibly challenging, getting night sitters a few nights a week along with one afternoon meant that the carer now gets some decent sleep and some time to themselves.  My patient has got to know these additional carers and now looks forward to their visits – appreciating different company and the fact that they are there solely to care for them, and leaving them free of the guilt about the tiredness of their partner.

Recent research from Porter and Preston at University of Michigan1 explores the altruistic motivations for refusing help.  They suggest that people will think of the person offering help before they think of their own need, and this is especially true with those close to them.  When we offer help, let’s make sure we have the time and space to do what is asked of us and that the person taking the help does not feel they are adding burden to our already busy lives.  The less ‘costly’ the help is perceived to be, the more likely the person is to accept the help.

As a company, we always work with patients and carers together when we build our products.  The new care act will enable health and social care professionals to care for both the patient and their carer, and in turn, we should see more people supported to stay independent for longer and enjoying their time with their families and friends.

Within our own families and networks let’s take this week to check if those who are carers are ok, encourage them to acknowledge their role and direct them to support as and when they need it

1Porter, Daniel J. “Helping you by not helping me: Altruistic motivations for refusing help Daniel J. Porter & Stephanie D. Preston University of Michigan.”