14:43 12 June 2013
There are 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK - a hidden army of people working often long hours and alone to look after their loved ones. Their unselfish work saves the nation £87 billion a year.
But who cares for the carers? Well, this week (June 10 - 16), the spotlight is on them because it's Carers Week. The aim is to raise awareness of the role they play in society and to look at ways they - and the people they care for - can be helped and supported.
A number of charities and celebrities are backing the campaign and events are being held around the country to bring the needs of carers to the attention of the nation.
A startling one-in-eight adults in the UK is a carer with most aged between 50 and 59. At some point in our lives most of us will end up looking after a frail, ill or disabled relative or friend.
Many are unaware of the help available and neglect themselves while devoting their time and energy to their loved ones. But there is help available if you know where to look.
The first step is to ask your local council for an assessment. They will work out if you need special equipment, say to lift someone in and out of bed or the bath, or an alarm fitted to that you don't have to worry when you are out or simply in another part of the home.
Care needs are split between health and social care. This is important because the NHS looks after their health, which is free, while social care is the responsibility of social services and is likely to be means-tested to see whether they can afford to pay some or all of the costs of the services provided. Health and social services should work together.
Assessments for adults are called community care assessments. There are different ones for disabled children which not only cover their practical needs but also where they can play safely and whether they have special education requirements.
Ask about day care centres in the area where the person you're looking after can spend time in the company of others.
For those with mental health problems, such as dementia, their GP will do the assessment.
Carers themselves should also have an assessment to make sure their own needs are taken into account. Stress and depression among carers is common. There may be a home where your loved one can go for a short time to give you a break.
Providing care is expensive. Carers may have to work shorter hours or stop working altogether to look after the person in need. And, if they are sharing a home, food costs and energy bills are likely to be higher.
Around £843 million of benefits go unclaimed, so you should check what benefits you and the person you care for are entitled to. These may be:
It's important to claim the right benefits as you could get discounts on your fuel bills and the state may then pay your National Insurance contributions for you so that your pension is protected.
If the demands of being a carer are so great that you are finding it difficult to carry on working, speak to your employer. Many firms are sympathetic and will work with you to discuss flexible hours and working from home.
Help for carers
Don't neglect yourself. It won't help if you put yourself under so much stress that you fall ill too. Tell your GP about your situation and have a check up.
Caring for a frail elderly person or disabled child can also put a strain on your partner and your relationship. It's important to protect your family life. See if other family members and friends can lend a hand from time to time. And take weekends away and holidays to give yourself a break.
Share your experiences with others by finding out if there are carers' centres near you or join in discussions on forums.
The Carers Week partners are a great starting point to look for services, information and advice. They include charities such as Age UK, Carers Trust, Carers UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care, MS Society and Parkinson's UK. There's also Independent Age, the Stroke Association, Carewell and Skills for Care.
This year's campaign is sponsored by Sainsbury's
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