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|TX: 16.06.06 - The Strain of Caring
PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON
|THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY
The vast majority of Britain's six million or so unpaid carers are themselves suffering ill health as a result. That's according to the charity Carers UK. It surveyed five and a half thousand carers, contacted through eight different national charities. The carers listed lack of sleep, heavy lifting and psychological strain among the main problems. Three quarters said their own poor health was limiting their ability to care. The charity wants GPs to check the health of carers each year. Esther Rantzen, who's been a carer, is supporting Carers Week this week. As she explained to our disability reporter Carolyn Atkinson it's important that the warning signs of strain aren't missed, whatever kind of caring people do.
The role varies hugely with the disability or illness of the person you're looking after. For me because my daughter became very disabled with ME, chronic fatigue, whatever you want to call it, what was constant throughout her illness was worry, anxiety, all the time - was she getting worse, were we doing the right things for her, was she alright at that moment - because I was working all the way through, as was my husband, so we were in a position to have support and she was looked after. But at the same time what was happening with her health, with her strength - and I'll never forget when she was actually hospitalised because she was by then bed bound, she was in bed 24 hours a day, she couldn't stand light, she couldn't stand sound and so on and the doctor said, right she will have to go to hospital for six weeks, which she did. I'll never forget - I was at work when that piece of news reached me and I just broke down. So that you are constantly in an emotional state of concern, your head is always somewhere else - wherever you are, whether you have to go shopping, whether you are out to work - if you're in the position I was in where you had someone at home that was able to allow you that respite still your brain is there.
And all the time you're concentrating on the person who you are caring for and one of the key themes of Carers Week is that they want to start concentrating on the carer and carers' health. I mean they've done research, what does that research show?
Well they looked at 5,000 carers and what they found was that the caring in nearly 80% of them had actually made their own health worse, not that they would bring that concern to a doctor or whatever, because they're so busy looking after someone else, but because this survey actually asked the question that was the answer they got - 80% of them found that caring had made their health worse. But only a quarter of them had ever been offered a check by their own GP. And this is what we want to change. We want within 12 months of them taking on the caring role them to have their own health check, so that these points can be picked up because conditions like stress, depression, backache, other things, can actually mean that unit which is functioning well because the carer is making sure it does function well may fall to bits and you may end up with two people that require hospitalisation, residential care.
Some would say aren't you just molly coddling the carer here, the carer really ought to be looking after themselves, they should go to the doctor if they feel things are going wrong, why is it up to everyone else to look after them?
Because your focus is on the person you're caring for. And that will always be the way. I mean every morning the carer will wake up wondering if the person they're caring for is deteriorating, okay, what their needs are on that day, the last thing on the agenda is their own health - always. I have never met a carer who actually had any concept of their own needs until it was pointed out to them or until things got so bad. I mean little things like respite can make so much difference, allowing a carer space and time to take exercise - go for a walk - go for a drive, go for a swim - that can make the difference, that can refresh and renew energy and health. But there may be more fundamental needs that a GP can look at and can provide treatment or help for.
One of the other things that carers talk about is the financial pressure that they often find themselves under, Carers Week is also raising the issue of Carers Allowance.
Well they have to because the current situation is completely ludicrous. I mean those people who do get the Carers Allowance, they get paid below £1.50 an hour, such a tiny amount of money that one wonders how much good it actually does, how much it really does improve the quality of life and give them what they need. And then of course when they get to pension age, when they're becoming more fragile, they may have spent many years looking after someone else and they're really worried that they may not have the health and strength to carry on, suddenly the Carers Allowance stops - not allowed to get a pension and Carers Allowance. How ludicrous is that? At the very time in their lives when they need it more than ever.
But lots of other groups also can't get this double income, as it's called, you can't get an income which is the Carers Allowance and you can't get the pension, why should carers be any different?
Because they are saving the nation so much money. Let's take emotion out of it. Let's take the importance of keeping that loving relationship as strong a bond as ever, let's not talk about rewarding loyalty and altruism and unselfishness and endurance and let's just say we are saving the state so much money by giving these carers in the older age bracket what they need, the minimum they need, I mean heaven knows they're not going to be rich on it. But it does mean that maybe they can afford that taxi to take them somewhere, even if it's only to the doctors. I mean some friends of mine, tragically his wife has just recently died, but what an example of courage they were. He in his 80s losing his sight, his wife both physically and mentally very frail, he devoting his life to looking after her, imprisoned in their house because he was reliant on other people - volunteers - coming and taking them out, even to the doctor for his own appointment. We should not as a nation humiliate our older carers in this way, we should be proud of them, we should reward them.
Esther Rantzen talking to Carolyn Atkinson.
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