Are you new to caring – or perhaps looking down the line a little and thinking that’s coming my way?

First of all remember, caring is something that is to be celebrated, enjoyed and respected.  Too often we can focus on the pressures and hear only the bad news stories – that brings us all down and encourages a culture of ‘avoidance’.  So, let’s turn the conversation on its head and together build a culture that celebrates and values caring.

Start the talking:

With yourself, with your closest family, with the people you will help care for, your wider family, and neighbours and friends.

It’s never easy – people don’t want to ‘wash their linen’ in public; people feel their pride is at stake; they don’t want to be disempowered.  But if early on people learn to share small tasks, (mowing the lawn, doing shopping, putting out the bins), then the giving and accepting of care is just more natural and not unusual.

Putting the house in order

Nobody likes forward planning – not even the lawyers among us – but it is really important to lead from the front.  You can set up financial and health and well-being plans for yourself if you take the lead and do it for yourself then some of the harder conversations with the people who may need care in future become easier. Check out www.gov.uk/power-of-attorney/overview.

Mental capacity

So we need to get our heads around the assumption that people have capacity, including to make unwise decisions.  Though some people may need more help than others in understanding the consequences of that.  And this is where those difficult conversations bear fruit because you know what mum would want in this situation.

Put yourself first

Remember carers give – that’s what they do, but you must be prepared to put yourself first and take care of your own health, and wellbeing – it’s a fundamental rule.  First stop tell your GP that you are a carer – it should open the doors to more personalised care for you. Second stop put your time and energy into maintaining relationships and interests outside your caring role.  No ifs and buts – it’s vital.

Check out the help

There’s help out there – go online and you’ll find tons.  A useful starting point is your local carers’ centre where you can find out more about your rights to benefits, health and care services, tax breaks as well as practical support such as training, support and breaks.  They’ll be able to tell you more about the rapidly growing number of practical aids that can help you care too.  Find out how we can help here.

Know the signs of abuse, neglect and exploitation

You are on the front line of protection against abuse and neglect, as well as financial exploitation of loved ones. Be knowledgeable about the signs of abuse and exploitation, and know what to do if you are worried.

Working and caring?

You have rights in the workplace – does your employer know that you are caring and working – tell them so they can cut you some slack when you need it.

Consider personal care agreements.

Caring often requires a financial sacrifice, especially if work must be cut back or given up. If your loved one wants to provide compensation, you’ll have to be prepared to check out tax questions and consider the potential for family conflict. This is where those early conversations come into their own and it’s worth getting an agreement to spell out terms and expectations.

Catharine Hurford, Chief Executive, Carer Support Wiltshire