Carers Week 2014 launched last week. Age UK wants to encourage as many people as possible to take part to help carers across the UK. The week itself doesn’t take place until 9-15 June 2014, but the door is now open for those who want to sign up to get involved.
Every year Carers Week is a chance for us to highlight the amazing contribution carers make to our society, whether they’re caring for a sibling, parent, partner, child or friend. There are 6.4 million unpaid carers in the UK and many of these put their own health, work and social lives to one side to care for loved ones.
Many people first come into contact with social care during a health crisis such as a hospital admission, when they and their families are often distressed. The system is very complicated and important decisions are often made very quickly and without proper independent information and advice.
Susan has helped us illustrate the situation many carers are faced with by sharing her story. She cares for her husband Bruce who has dementia and Parkinson’s disease. When they first entered the care system, Susan had no idea who to turn to:
‘One morning, my husband woke up with his arm shaking. We didn’t think it was anything serious, but it got worse and at the hospital they told us he’d had a stroke. Things went downhill from there and within six months he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and then, later, dementia. I can’t really leave Bruce on his own as he can get very anxious, he has to take lots of pills every day which I organise, I do all the house work and cooking, help Bruce wash. I used to be able to pop out to walk the dog or get a pint of milk but now I worry about what Bruce might have done by the time I get back.
‘As a carer I feel I’ve been through everything and have just been left to get on with things alone. Before all this happened Bruce and I rarely visited our doctor. None of my family ever really got sick, they all lived into their 90s. We had no idea who to go to for information or help. We didn’t know much about social care as it never occurred to us that we might need it. I think I assumed it would be like the NHS, but that’s not the case at all. Mind you, even if we had given it some thought beforehand, I don’t know how useful that would have been as things seem to change all the time. It’s very confusing. I would have been in real trouble if I didn’t have a computer.
‘All the information we’ve come across, we’ve had to search for. It feels like no one has offered us help. Even now, years on, I only find out about things that could help us by seeing something in the paper or online. I call the council and ask about it, and they say ‘oh yes, you could have that’. They rarely contact me and tell me what’s on offer.
It feels like people want to avoid talking about this awful journey that we’re on.’
It’s important to celebrate these fantastic people, like Susan, but also to recognise the struggles that carers can experience. We want to ensure that as many carers as possible know what is out there to help them, and can access support when they need it.
To support this ambition, this year’s Carers Week centres on the idea of a Carers Quest. We want unidentified carers to be highlighted and helped, so we’re encouraging individuals and organisations to point carers in the direction of information and advice.
We want you to pledge your support by telling us what you plan to do during the week itself. Your pledges can be as large or small as you can manage, things like:
- ‘I pledge to find out about my local carers services and pass the information to my colleagues/employees.’
- ‘I pledge to run an event during Carers Week to raise awareness of our services and how we support carers.’
- ‘I pledge to get information and advice for someone I care about who is a carer.’
You can sign up to get involved now, and Carers Week will send you lots of information and ideas about what you can do. There is more information on the Carers Week website including details of how to sign up yourself or as an organisation.