Caring for an older relative

Feelings about caring

Carers can experience a wide range of emotions about their situation, including anger towards the person they are caring for and guilt about feeling angry. The most important thing is not to bottle your feelings up and instead to talk to someone. Your GP or public health nurse is a good source of advice and can point you in the right direction in terms of sourcing services to assist you in your role as a carer.

Take the opportunity to discuss your feelings with a friend who might be sympathetic listener. There is never any simple solution but if you air your difficulties they are more likely to be put into perspective. Some counselling sessions might be useful as often, people may open up more to a stranger who has the time to listen and the expertise to help.

Caring can be exhausting, both mentally and physically. It is important to look after your own health so if you feel you are not getting enough sleep or time to yourself, you may have to rethink your schedule. A health professional can give you pointers on relaxation techniques, for example.

If you are feeling down for a long time, it may be possible that you are depressed so seek treatment.

You may need a break from your role as a carer. Explore the possibility of availing of respite care. Talk to your doctor or local health board about respite care facilities in your area.

What is respite care?

Respite care is a facility which allows a carer a period of time away from their care duties. It may be home-based to allow the carer to pursue interests away from the home, or it may be residential, to allow the carer to take a small holiday from their care duties.

There is a chronic lack of respite care facilities in Ireland. The Department of Health and Children is now beginning to put additional resources into the provision of residential respite care services for frail older people and people with learning disabilities.

The Home Help service was recently reviewed by a working group established by the National Council on Ageing and Older People. Following the review, the Department of Health and Children has providing additional funding to the Health Boards for Home Helps, to cover both increased rates of pay and more personnel. The pace of change is slow, however, and many carers remain under great stress with too little respite available to them.

The Carers Association has been providing a Respite HomeCare Service since 1994. The home-based service is tailored to the needs of the Carer and the person cared for at home.

Support groups can provide a wealth of information on practical issues about caring for an older person.

They can be contacted at

The Carers Association,

St Mary's Community Centre,

Richmond Hill,

Rathmines, Dublin 6.

Tel (01) 4974498/4974131. Fax (01) 4976108.

FREEFONE 1800 24 07 24.

The Association is also online, at www.carersireland.ie

Preparing a room for an incapacitated older person

Obviously, personal taste is a key consideration and you will want to make the room as attractive as possible for your relative but there are some issues you may like to consider if you are planning a room for someone you are caring for:

  • The bed should be accessible from three sides to allow space for the person to move and for the bedclothes to be easily changed.
  • It is important that the bed is at the right height for assisting the person to move and for performing any of the other caring functions. If finance permits, a height adjustable bed is the ideal solution. Low double beds can be the cause of back problems for the carer.
  • It is a good idea to have two chairs in the room; one for the person and another for the visitor.
  • A bedside table and light are essential.
  • If the person is confined to the room, they should have their own TV, radio and a place to keep a selection of reading material.
  • Ensure that the room is well ventilated.
  • Ideally the person should have a method of attracting your attention such as a buzzer. However, you can improvise by using a baby intercom or perhaps a bell.

Caring for a relative that is mentally ill

One of the most important issues about caring for a person who is mentally ill is to make sure they take their prescribed medication. It is a good idea to find out about the medications that the person has been prescribed and the dosage regime.

The best environment for a mentally ill person is in a calm setting. A lot of reassurance and support will be needed.

Make use of local support groups, including carers’ groups. It can be extremely useful to talk to people in a similar situation to yourself. In addition, they may have knowledge and advice which will be helpful to you.

Any mention of suicide should be taken very seriously. Your GP or local psychiatric hospital should be contacted.

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