Holidays for carers? 5 star resorts? Expenses paid? Whatever next? I can feel eyes rolling. Surely not. I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous! I’ve heard it all now. But pause for thought. Could it be a viable solution to the billions of pounds currently being spent on residential health care that is neither desired nor wanted by patient and family alike?
The ideal situation, for families and the state too, is for elderly or ill people to be cared for within the familiarity of their home environment. I don’t think though that the emotional toll this has on a ‘carer’ has even begun to be addressed. Our Western society framework means that the care often comes down to one main person – quite probably a spouse, with others only opting in and out. The strain of this is why so often people end up in residential care, when it is the least desired option for all concerned, at huge emotional and often financial cost to the family, and definitely huge financial cost to the state.
Being a full time carer is tough going. It is not good enough for health professionals or government leaflets to constantly say ‘look after the carer’ too. They need to enable this care.
Let’s face it, none of us show our spouse our best sides. It’s hard enough caring for a partner with the flu, or a broken leg for a couple of weeks, so imagine yourselves in the shoes of someone (often elderly themselves) trying to look after their spouse 24-7 with no reprieve in sight. They may well be attending to specific physical issues affecting their loved one’s mobility, whilst also quite frequently addressing quite severe mental health concerns or behavioural changes. On top of all that and both debilitating and frustrating, is the impact of worsening sight and hearing.
Have you noticed the first question health care professionals ask is ‘are you their carer?' It’s not are you their wife/husband? It’s almost as if, the past years of marriage and being a spouse with all that entails is stripped away as a new role is adopted. The carer (previously known as spouse) is left to grieve for the person they once were, and come to terms largely alone with their changed circumstances.
The carer, a.k.a. spouse, may have family support (with all the complexities of sibling and children dynamics that brings) and theoretically there is usually local help available. Accessing it, however, may require the patience of a saint, the intellect of a PHD and pay packet of a banker! Definitely some friends may rally round, and these are worth their weight in gold, but the carers still take the bulk of the strain. Hardest, and the cruellest cut of all, is that the spouse the 'carer' has leaned on for the last thirty, forty, fifty years, can no longer provide the reciprocal support that s/he needs too. The emotional weight of all this is huge.
Despite this, home care is usually what both husband and wife will fight tooth and nail to uphold. It is only when some kind of crisis point is reached that caring from home is deemed unmanageable and the move to a care home is made.
This ‘tipping point’is completely unsatisfactory and inappropriate as a reason to make that move to a care home. Everyone is exhausted; the primary carer is left bereft feeling that they’ve failed, when the reality is that nothing is further from the truth. What about the ‘caree’ (is that even a word?). Significantly the person being cared for really doesn’t want to go or ‘be put’ into a care home’. They may feel abandoned, unloved, or if of a more understanding disposition, an emotional or financial drain on resources and ‘nothing but a bloody nuisance’. The move for them is unsettling and disorientating. Leaving the home environment is what everyone has been trying to avoid and yet it occurs at the worst moments. For everyone else this sometimes unsaid, but very large elephant in the room, adds still further to the emotional strain on the carer and other family members.
So we need a new approach. Mr Hammond and other government ministers, what about this for an out of the box solution? We continue with our 'at home' care, and carers continue to be given an attendance allowance. In addition though, respite care is provided for the carer two or three times a year in the form of a proper holiday. During that time, a health care professional stays in the family home (at far less cost than full time residential care) and the ‘carer’ is given a proper holiday, at minimal cost (or ideally free). The cost still is far less than full time state residential care for the personal being cared for. A reprieve is properly given, the person being cared for gets to stay in their home and costs are lower than other alternatives.
Could it work as a viable option that people can opt into? I think it’s worth investigating. What do you think?