Carers – The UK’s unsung heroes – What can we give back?

The UK’s 7m unpaid carers are amongst the most giving people we know.

They are all around us, caring for mums, husbands, daughters, sons, brothers, grans, friends….the list is endless, and they do this free of charge and unconditionally because they have an emotional connection with the person they care for.

Anyone can be a carer, a 7 year old boy helping his mum with her cancer treatments, a 90 year old woman supporting her husband with dementia, a 30 year old dad caring for his daughter born with cerebral palsy or a 60 year old woman caring for her dad who is old and frail.

3 in 5 of us will be a carer at some point, carers are all around us, propping up our health and social care systems, preventing winter deaths, keeping people out of our stretched A&E departments, providing a wide array of nursing and personal care tasks and ensuring people with care needs don’t become lonely and isolated.

Along with caring, unpaid carers have their own lives to lead at school, at work, with family and in the community, but they just keep on giving, sometimes at great personal cost to their own health and wellbeing. In fact the economic value of their gift is estimated at around £135bn every year, and its growing as our demography changes and we all live longer.

So, we should all ask ourselves, what can we give back to carers?

This blog was produced by @LuenThompson, who is the Director or Marketing and Communications at the @CarersTrust.

Vascular Dementia – Helpful questions and answers

What is Vascular Dementia?

Vascular Dementia (VD) is a condition caused by a lack of sufficient oxygen and nutrients to the brain, causing the cells within the brain to eventually die. The blood vessels that carry blood to the brain become diseased – they are often weakened and leak, or can become blocked, decreasing their effectiveness in delivering vital oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Of the various identifiable types of dementia, VD is the second most-common form, with approximately 150,000 sufferers in the UK.

Here is a useful video that providers a brief outline of what Vascular Dementia is.

How is it caused?

There are two primary reasons why the condition may develop.

Cause 1 – The most common cause is the degeneration of tiny blood vessels deep within the brain, this is called Subcortical Dementia.  The tiny bloody vessels can thicken, which in turn reduces the blood supply to those cells, causing them to degenerate and eventually die. The nerve fibres around the affected blood vessels are also harmed, reducing their effectiveness. The disease of the tiny bloody vessels can also affect other areas of the brain, including the base, if blood vessels are blocked here it could cause small infarcts – also known as an ischaemic stroke.

Cause 2 – The second most common cause of VD is following a stroke. Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly cut-off, this can be as a result of a blood clot (an ischaemic stroke) or less commonly, where a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain (a haemorrhagic stroke). Around 1 in 5 people who suffer a stroke will develop dementia on top of the side effects of the stroke itself. Most people who have suffered a stroke will have another and therefore the risk of developing dementia increases with each stroke event as more of the brain becomes damaged.

How can it affect someone?

The symptoms of VD can vary from person to person, often dictated by the root cause of the dementia, whether it be as a result of vascular disease, or following a stroke. The speed in which the symptoms can take hold can also vary, the damage following a stroke is often instantaneous, whereas the effects of vascular disease can develop over time.

Early symptoms and effects can include:

  • Problems concentrating on tasks – this could be shown in activities such as planning, making decisions or problem solving.   They may also struggle to follow instructions, and their thought process may be slower.
  • Mild memory loss.
  • Problems with articulating what they want to say – their speech may become less fluent as they concentrate on finding the words.
  • Easily frustrated – this is often a result of the issues highlighted above.
  • Depression and sudden changes in mood – the depression is often as a result of the sufferer becoming aware of the cognitive effects (listed above).
  • Weak bladder – this is associated with subcortical VD sufferers, and can be accompanied by a weakness on one particular side of their body.
  • Dizziness or tremors.

As the disease progresses (stroke-related VD often will become worse following each new stroke episode; whereas subcortical VD will worsen gradually), long term symptoms and effects include:

  • Severe confusion and memory loss – day to day tasks become harder and sufferers are likely to need support on a daily basis.
  • Problems with communication and comprehension.
  • Changes to their personality and behaviour – they can become aggressive, irritable and easily agitated.
  • Suffer delusions and hallucinations.

What treatments are available?

Sadly the brain damage caused by VD cannot be treated to stop the degeneration, nor can it be reversed. However, with careful and managed support an individual with VD can continue to live well.

Caring for a loved one with VD can be hard, but these simple tips can help you support your loved one and give them some much-needed structure when they need it:

  • Establish a routine – this will help them feel less agitated.
  • Keep them occupied – it is important to help keep their mind and body active (where possible), whether it be a short walk, social activities or something as simple as tending to plants. This helps add structure to their day to day lives, as well as providing a sense of purpose.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate with your loved one – though they may struggle to comprehend you, it is important they do not feel isolated and a smile or arm around the shoulder can help you both feel comfortable.

As well as taking on the care yourself, there are many different types of external support available, and family and friends of those with the disease are encouraged to explore these options. UK Care Guide was founded to offer honest and reliable support for anyone needing care for themselves or a relative – and our website contains a wealth of information about ongoing care, the costs of care (including our handy Care Calculator) and your options for care for your loved one.

Thanks to the UK Care Guide for their recent Blog Article.

Searching for a Home Care Provider

With the costs of residential care being very high, more and more people are looking to receive specialist, and paid for, care in their own home. This is often delivered by specialist care provider agencies, who employ carers with specific training and expertise in providing care in the home.

Picking a  specialist, and paid for, home care provider can be a difficult thing to do. That is why we have created a search facility to allow you to find a specialist carer in your area. Just put in details below of where you are and what kind of home care you are looking for.

Advantages and disadvantages of receiving paid for care in the home

Deciding whether to have care in the home, from a specialist care provider, can be a big decision, and there are a number of advantages and challenges that you need to think through.

Advantages of receiving care in the home

Financial benefit – Receiving care in the home is significantly cheaper. Average costs for care in the home are about £11,000 per year if you have a part-time carer, compared to about £30,000 per year if you lived in a residential care home.

Maintain your independence – Living in your own home allows you to maintain some independence and remain in familiar surroundings.

Friends and family – Being close to friends and family allows you to receive regular visitors in an environment they are familiar and comfortable with

You retain control – you remain in control over the support that you need and the areas where you want the carers to help you

Challenges with receiving care in the home

Be with other people – One of the advantages of a residential care home is that you are with other people and have the ability to interact with others on a daily basis. If you are living alone, you may find this lonely, especially if family and friends are not close by.

Risk of being on your own – Even though your carer will visit you on a regular, if not daily basis, it can still be a risk for you being at home, especially if your health is not what it used to be.

Value of your home – Another point that often gets missed until later, is that you may need to make modifications to your home to make it easier for you to get around. However, when it comes to selling your home, these modifications can negatively impact on the value of your home as any potential buyer may need to remove your changes and put the house back to ‘normal’.