On occasions, duties of care are difficult, baffling and stressful experiences. With regard to sustaining their stamina, mental wellbeing and confidence, caregivers should spend some time concentrating on how they might benefit from their endeavours. To rephrase a well-known quotation of Ralph Waldo Emerson it could be argued that one of the beautiful compensations of life is that humans cannot sincerely try to help others without helping themselves in the process.
Rationale. This short paper is intended to present a variety of worthwhile activities which have come to my attention either through being advised by other carers or serendipity. My main aim is not to adopt and academic style but rather to enter into a form of dialogue with interested practitioners and non-specialists. In this way, it is intended to provide opportunities for reflection on our current planning and procedures.
The list is not extensive and, of course, its ten topics will not be suitable for everyone. Nonetheless, I suggest that it is very useful for carers to have a record of the interests, customs and events in which they may be obliged to or wish to take part along with those for whom they are caring. It is assumed that in all of this work, due attention will be given to matters of confidentiality and the right of access to information. Please feel free to amend or add to the inventory below.
- Wills, Powers of Attorney and other relevant documents. Make sure that wills and Powers of Attorney have been opened and are in order. Check that all other documents such as formal emergency plans, diet sheets, medical advice and prescriptions are up-to-date.
- Names and addresses of useful contacts. Open a notebook containing: (1) the names, postal and email addresses, and telephone numbers of all professionals and agencies involved in assisting with the health and wellbeing of those for whom you are caring; and (2) similarly, for all communal resources and facilities – local support units, libraries, coffee mornings, specialist charities, faith services, choirs, etc. – which may be able to assist you in delivering person-centred care programmes.
- Planning ahead. Life as a carer is frequently hectic and complicated due to the necessity of having to balance fulfilling caring responsibilities with fitting in one’s own chores. It can be very helpful to keep a diary or calendar for tracking forthcoming occasions. In particular, this method assists with the preparation of any complex tasks and the avoidance of awkward clashes when organising future events. At the same time, make sure that planning ahead is not too crowded and allow for flexibility.
- Establishing daily and weekly routines. Some persons experiencing significant disabilities can profit greatly from well-managed procedures within which they feel safe and secure. Of course, it does not follow that leisure or hands-on pursuits are repetitive or tedious – quite the opposite. The overall objective should be to ensure that all feel confident and are engaged to the best of their abilities. Arrangements should include the timing of healthy meals and snacks and also suitable periods for physical exercise. Close attention to timetabling can guarantee that your plans run smoothly and that you make the best use of your time.
- Favourite things. Keep a note of what might be described as the ‘favourite things’ of those for whom you care. These could encompass: visiting grandchildren or taking them for a treat; outdoor activities such as picnics or sightseeing; listening to classical compositions, jazz music or popular songs, perhaps from a ‘memory disk’; watching much-loved television programmes; and visiting art galleries or museums. Of course, this list could be considerably longer. When apposite, selected preferences can be fitted gainfully into future schedules.
- Joining artistic, cultural or interest groups. Being a member of a social cluster can be very beneficial with regard to mental health. Sharing ideas and partaking in pursuits with others who enjoy similar pastimes are often highly therapeutic for both vulnerable and more confident individuals. Examples are groupings coming together to participate in: photography; painting and craftwork; hill-walking; book and film clubs; and choral singing.
- Making use of specialised equipment and assistive technologies. There are very many forms of supportive equipment to assist with eating, walking, sitting, sleeping and so forth. Additionally, assistive technologies can provide substantial ease and relief when undertaking a wide range of assignments, for instance, shopping, banking and contributing in virtual meetings. Seek professional advice on what specific types of equipment and technology might be most applicable for persons whom you are supporting.
- Engaging together in reinforcing practical life skills. The carer and the person being assisted can work together in preparing a meal, collaborating during shopping outings, undertaking the weekly laundry, making use of public transport, visiting health clinics, etc. Ensure that endeavours of this kind are enjoyable as well as functional. When embarked on appropriately, these aspects of cooperative involvement are generally extremely helpful in promoting and maintaining competences for everyday living.
- Assisting other carers and relatives. Be sure to keep all those involved in programmes of care notified on developments and activities which you have investigated or discovered. This information could relate to your observations on matters regarding friendships which have been formed, leisure pursuits, music preferences and the like; on the negative side, it might highlight potential dangers as encountered when crossing roads or climbing stairs.
- Keeping resilient and up-to-date. You value and are attentive to the views and wishes of others. At the same time, it is important that you also are considerate and thoughtful as regards your own welfare. Take an active role in protecting your wellbeing including nourishment, physical exercise, relaxation and sleeping habits. Make good use of organisations, websites and other sources of advice and guidance to remain well informed. If you don’t ask questions, you may never know something relevant and important from which you, or a person for whom you are caring, would have benefitted. Do not be afraid to enquire, and if necessary, to enquire again! If you don’t seek help, you may never receive any!