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Essential Carer's guide

                              October 2006


Jeanne Davis finds a new book to help unpaid carers and their families


The Essential Carer's Guide

Are you a carer? Do you look after someone who has an illness, a disability or is frail; a relative, a friend or a neighbour? Perhaps a mother who has broken her hip, a father with memory loss, a spouse with coronary disease or other illness such as Parkinson’s disease, a friend or neighbour with age-related infirmities, a child with disabilities. Even if you do it part-time, and not in your own home, you are a carer.

There are currently over six million unpaid or informal carers like you in the UK. Every day, another six thousand people take on a caring responsibility.

When someone becomes a carer, they do not necessarily realise what the long term effects will be. Their relationship with the person they care for will almost certainly change. They may have to give up work and see their friends less often. They may experience the physical and emotional strain of round-the-clock caring. But arguably, all these carers want the very best for their ‘cared-for’.

“When you find yourself, often suddenly, responsible for a relative or friend who can no longer cope independently, you need all the help you can get. It is often impossible to find the time to source the right help while fitting in at least 20 hours caring responsibilities and holding down a job, looking after a young family or coping with other demanding aspects of life,” writes Mary Jordan, author of The Essential Carer’s Guide.

With extensive experience of the NHS and of caring for older relatives, Mary Jordan has written the most useful guide I am aware of to help with all the information you may need. She has been joined by a team of advisors who include a social worker, a DHSS manager, a care home manager, a General Practitioner and a mental health specialist.

Her case stories cover physical, social and financial needs across the varying stages of immediate, intermediate and advanced care. She offers advice, for example, on how to decide whether something quite simple will help someone who is less mobile than they used to be. The inclination may be to suggest a move to a bungalow, a smaller house, or a warden-managed complex, or a care home.

But sometimes small adjustments can prevent a major change. Such things as ramps to outside doors, grab rails, raised toilet seats, non-slip rugs will make life at home safer and more convenient.

There is something you can do about it’ is a constant theme. Jordan details where and how to get the help. She has done the research for you. I found through my own experience as a carer (my husband had Parkinson’s disease) that the most stressful times were when a new concern would arise and I did not know what to do. You could read the guide through, if you like, or dip into it when a particular concern arises. It is not easy to absorb all the information at once nor would you necessarily expect to. Few of us are prescient enough to know what needs may arise in the years to come.

“This book is a mine of information, “says Andy Murphy, CEO of London Care Connections, the charity that provides front-line services and information for carers. “Jordan describes numerous situations and provides solutions, rather than just repeating problems which most books do.”

She is very helpful on the first signs of confusion. What the causes might be; how to talk with the person, to discern what they mean, without becoming impatient. Impatience is hard to resist for the carer: the physical and mental stress of caring takes its toll on your good intentions. Sometimes you just have to be firm, which is particularly difficult when the person is a parent or a spouse. Often the cared-for is stubborn about change.

One daughter writes, “My mother had a lot of trouble getting up from the sitting position due to a bad hip. It would take her ages to get up out of her chair if the doorbell rang or if she needed something from the next room. My brother and I knew a riser/recliner chair would be a real boon to her, and bought one for her as a birthday gift. She refused to use it. Finally my brother got quite cross with her and insisted she use it. Within a week she was proclaiming to all and sundry what a marvellous invention it was.”

For this family the adjustment was relatively minor, but for others, now and in the future, more major changes will need to be made to keep the cared-for as independent for as long as possible through declining health. Recognising the need for other options and choosing what would suit the cared-for best is a minefield of pros and cons. A residential home, a nursing home, a care home? Jordan shares her experience and knowledge.

I would recommend the Essential Carer’s Guide as an essential source of help for all carers to have at hand. One small quibble. The first chapter could be more focussed, but from then on it is clear sailing.

The Essential Carer’s Guide (Hammersmith Press, ?14.99) is available from  or from Combined Book Services Ltd    , tel: 01892 837171: fax: 01892 837272 and from all good bookshops including Waterstones.

Jeanne Davis cared for her husband who had Parkinson’s disease. She is a Trustee of London Care Connections, the carers charity.



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