Families put off talking about caring for elderly parents until there’s a crisis

Image above: 94 year old Phyllis at St Cecilia’s care home, image from Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls, BBC

“We felt guilty we didn’t do it earlier” – Ed Balls

Ed Balls, Labour politician-turned-media-celebrity, is exploring the crisis in social care this country is facing, in a two-part BBC 2 series Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls.

As a former minister in both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s governments and Shadow Chancellor, the star of Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Bake-Off is well placed to understand the issues involved at a macro level of funding and regulation, but he also has very pertinent experinece personally.

His mother Carolyn (82) has been in a specialist care home for the past three years because she has dementia. Balls told the Evening Standard’s features editor Susannah Butter he regretted not discussing her dementia and plans for her future enough while she was able to understandand take part in the discussion. When the time came that they could no longer avoid putting her in a care home, they were in crisis management mode:

“I was in an airport lounge in Singapore, my brother was in California and my sister was in Nottingham and we had to make a plan because my dad could no longer cope.

“We had spent more than ten years trying to avoid feeling like we got to that point and felt guilty that we had to make the decision but actually once we had decided that she should go to a home we felt guilty that we didn’t do it earlier. For my mum and dad there was so much stress before she went in”

“the nature of being a family member is there is nothing you do that you don’t feel guilty about”.

You can watch Inside the Care Crisis with Ed Balls on BBC iPlayer

Image above: Home Instead Chiswick client with a carer

Families in the UK avoid talking about caring for the elderly until they absolutely have to

His experience is very common. In a recent national survey care company Home Instead UK found 81% people they interviewed admitted they were reluctant to have a conversation with their parents about possible care options.

They found a third (33%) worried about their parents’ physical health and more than a quarter (28%) of the adults polled admitted they were seriously concerned their elderly parents weren’t safe living on their own.

Despite this, 40% would not consider letting a parent move into their house if they were unable to live without care. The reasons they gave included not having enough space (60%), being too busy with work (28%), and their partner refusing to agree to it (15%).

Maddy Alemayehu, Director of the Chiswick office of Home Instead told The Chiswick Calendar a lot of the time clients who come to them for help looking after their parents in their own homes feel guilty they can’t look after their parents themselves and that guilt is often expressed as anger and distress.

“Sometimes they haven’t had a good relationship with their parents, or they are just too busy with other responsibilities.

“For others it’s more about the psychological aspect: there is a huge barrier to overcome. They think ‘How can I give my mother personal care? How can I wash my mother?’ There’s a boundary which we are not used to overcoming. They feel it’s not respectful to ask their parent whether they’ve been to the toilet”.

People come to them when the family is already in crisis she said, but if they came before the crisis point not only would they avoid a lot of anxiety and upset, but they would also save money.

“If people come before the crisis point it’s much cheaper”.

Image above: Home Instead Chiswick client with a carer

Don’t let the decision get to crisis point

Maddy is herself a nurse and she trains her care staff to watch out for important health indicators.

“If they’re not cooking any more, they’re having ready meals which are higher in salt and sugar, they’re not drinking enough water and getting enough fresh air, depression is common, falls, chest infections, they may injure themselves in a fall, then they need more expensive care.

“The first thing we do when we come in is a risk assessment in the home and make sure they have mobility aids if they need them and that they are hydrating and eating well”.

Some families she says are very pro-active, they will visit two or three times a week and use Home Instead carers to supplement their visits in between. A lot of their clients have demanding jobs or other demands on their time or they live quite far away.

Sometimes, in her experience, people have found having their parents to live with them has not worked out well. The parents do not want to move or, if they do, they expect that their children will spend more time with them:

“Expectations are higher; tensions with partners increase and it causes more strain”.

Image above: Home Instead Chiswick client with a carer

Most people who need care should not need to go into a care home

Maddy told us most people who need care should not need to go into a care home. Typically people with mobility problems need help morning, evening and in the middle of the day, to get up and washed, to eat their meals, take their tablets and prepare for bed.

“If you just need visits three times a day you shouldn’t need to go into a care home and it’s cheaper to stay in your own home”.

A lot of the cost involved with care homes is bed and board. Home Instead charges between £15 and £30 an hour for carers, depending on the level of care needed.

Beattie E, the daughter of a client, published this review of Home Instead Chiswick’s services in April 2021:

‘I hired Home Instead to help care for my mother who has Alzheimer’s/dementia after they were highly recommended by my cousin. Due to work commitments, I am unable to be with my mother full time, and she needs constant care.

‘The care provided by Home Instead is so excellent. I have no worries about leaving my mother. Their staff are kind, considerate, highly trained, and efficient. Every need is catered for, and they are truly reliable. They have saved my family. My mother is also delighted. She is safe, contented and looked after. What more could I ask for?’


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