Look after yourself: caring for elderly parents when you’re in a full-time job

The peak age for caring for elderly relatives is 45 to 64, yet despite an increasing number of us doing so, employers often take a dim view of caring commitments. By Joy Persaud

The responsibility of caring for ageing relatives while you’re trying to hold down a job, or carry on with life miles away from your parent, can leave you struggling to keep everyone happy.

Around 6.5 million adults in Britain currently provide unpaid help to support family, partners or friends who are ill, frail or disabled, and the number is rising, according to Age UK.

Yet, while most employers cater for people with dependent children, companies providing help for people who care for ageing parents (‘caring upwards’) are less common.

Employers and eldercare

However, there are some enlightened businesses, including Procter & Gamble, Royal Bank of Scotland, KPMG and Barclays, that are prioritising eldercare.

Not only is this socially responsible, but it reduces employees’ absences, stress levels, and the cost of recruiting replacements.

My Family Care is a company that employers including P&G use to help their staff manage caring responsibilities. The organisation, which recognises that the peak age for caring is 45 to 64 – when many employees have gained valuable skills and experience – advises businesses on how to implement family-friendly practices.

Their services are for people who may need help with a close relative being incapacitated, needing post-operative convalescence support or transport, or care for the employee if they are unwell or need respite, among other scenarios.

Caring for an older relative

Lyn Duncan, chief executive of e-commerce firm cloudBuy, understands all too well the issues facing adult carers.

Her mother’s long-term back problem gradually became more painful, culminating in her being largely unable to get out of the house, see her friends and carry on with any semblance of a normal life.

Lyn says, “She was in severe pain and increasingly depressed. She lives in Aberdeen and I am a long way away from her, in Berkshire, so tried to help her manage everything by phone.

“It got so that every phone call was very depressing as she was crying in pain and there seemed to be nothing that anyone could do to help.

“I spoke to her GP weekly, we called social services to see if they could help, and she tried physio and pain clinics. Nothing helped. 

“Finally I flew to Aberdeen, packed a suitcase and brought her back to Berkshire, where we were able to get her fully assessed and start on a course of treatment and interventions that began her rehabilitation.”

Lyn’s experiences with her mother and her time working as a healthcare management consultant prior to founding cloudBuy was “a huge factor” in the development of cloudBuy’s ‘care marketplace’, an online shop for equipment, home help and care homes.

The company recently commissioned a survey of 2,000 adults, which revealed that time and distance are two of the biggest challenges facing carers. Cost can also become a factor if caring involves regularly travelling across the country to visit and look after elderly relatives.

Coping with parents with dementia

She says: “A friend’s father has dementia and she is trying to manage this with her family. She worked for a tiny company and asked her employer of ten years if they could be flexible for a period. They refused and she had to leave, making a difficult situation worse. 

“Seniority makes it difficult too, as the same stresses that keep you away from parents may apply here if you are juggling board meetings and international travel.

“If you do take on a period of hands-on crisis care then it will be time consuming and may require you to take time off work formally if you can’t come to an understanding with your employer.”

Of the situation with her mother, Lyn says, “The good news is that she went home after a month and continued with the programme that we started, joined the nearby gym and now some three years later is fit and well and enjoying life to the full again. 

“It could easily have been very different, so prompt intervention and access to services and information are really critical.”

As people are increasingly living to greater ages – and have to work for longer before they can afford to retire – the issue of caring upwards is going to become more serious, as the elderly age and and their carers get older.

Last month, Age UK reported that 870,000 people between 65 and 89 now have unmet needs for social care.

Benefits for carers

Age UK charity director Caroline Abrahams says that full-time carers usually experience a drop in income to carry out the role full-time, and points out that they may be eligible for benefits. 

“The main welfare benefit for carers is called carer’s allowance,” she says. There are some criteria to qualify, such as spending 35 hours a week caring, so it’s worth checking to see if you are eligible. Other benefits include reduced council tax and attendance allowance.”


How to look after yourself if you’re a carer

Age UK suggests the following:

• If you are experiencing health difficulties, speak to your GP, as they will be able to offer advice and support

• Although it can be difficult, try to eat healthily, stay active and get enough sleep

• Don’t overlook your emotional health. Family and friends, carers’ groups, your GP or counsellor, or organisations such as Samaritans can provide you with space to talk about how you’re feeling

• While it can be hard to share feelings of guilt, sadness or anger, keeping it to yourself can make things seem worse. Everyone reacts differently: there is no right or wrong way to feel

• Keep your own interests and find time to pursue them when you can

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