Joan, 73, from Hoveton, cares for her husband, 75, who had a brain haemorrhage last year. She says that the health professionals with whom she first came into contact, didn’t recognise her as a carer and failed to listen to her views about the impact of her husband’s condition upon his day-to day-living, or upon her. She says this affected her mental health:
“I was going spare, and worried about what would happen if I got ill.”
She feels strongly that more should be done by health professionals to identify carers at first contact and help them find out about their rights, and the support that’s available.
“I don’t think I realised that I have rights, or that I might be entitled to a Carer’s Assessment or Carers Allowance ,” she says.
Joan eventually found out about the support available from Norfolk Carers. She took up a course of counselling to help her with the emotional side of caring and a short break to relax and go horse riding. She advises other carers to seek out information, advice and support:
“You’ve got to think about the person you are caring for, but you must look after yourself too and not be frightened to ask for help.”
Christine, 66, from South Norfolk cares for her husband who has Parkinson’s Disease, and a number of other health problems. Caring was taking over her life, but, she says, she didn’t mention her caring role to her employer and couldn’t discuss her feelings of frustration and anger with members of her family.
“It’s insidious; you don’t realise that you’re taking on more and more until you’re forced to take stock.”
The crunch came for Christine when she had a panic attack caused by the strain of trying to support her husband’s emotional health. Her daughter insisted that she saw a GP and it opened up the support available to her husband. Although this took off some of the strain from her, she found a lifeline at an open day in her local library. There, she met with a member of Norfolk Carers’ support team and at last felt able to talk freely about her problems and express her emotions:
“It was the best thing that I could have done – I felt supported.”
Through Norfolk Carers, Christine also tapped into a learning grant, which allowed her to do a writing course. But, she says, more needs to be done to make carers aware of the information, advice and support available. She’s now passing on information to a neighbour who’s just become a carer:
“Norfolk Carers is an excellent organisation but more carers need to know about them and get tailored help. Norfolk Carers’ Handbook and leaflets are available – pick them up and tell other people about them.”
Just listening to Val Howes’ weekly schedule is tiring: Monday, she runs a dance class and does interval training, which includes jumping jacks! Tuesday and Wednesday are Pilates. Thursdays are Zumba and step. Saturdays are for Kettleball. And she also walks 5 – 6 miles one or twice a week.
But Val, 69, from Snettisham, has always been busy. She cared for her husband Terry for 18 years, before sadly losing him to Motor Neurone Disease 3 years ago.
“I’m doing more classes now,” she says. “But I always tried to keep fit. Terry was so strong and positive – he kept me going.”
His attitude has inspired Val to make the best of life without him.
“Terry couldn’t eat for many years and I just lost interest, but I’ve really got back into cooking,” she says.
“It’s odd – we used to have a team of doctors and people constantly at the house, but now there’s no-one, so I try to get out as much as I can. Exercise is good for the spirit, so I put on Terry’s old golf trousers and head out – even if it’s raining.”
Having been through years of caring and then losing her beloved Terry, Val is keen to help others and has been asked to help find carers in West Norfolk to take part in a new focus group at the Norfolk, Hospice in Hillington, looking at how to improve things for people caring at the end of life stage.
“It can be any illness,” says Val. “By joining our group you can help represent the views of others and discuss any problems you’re having with the services available.”
“We want to identify local issues with the standard and quality of care delivered to patients, carers and their families,” she says. The plan is we can then help to influence and help mould services in the future.”
If you would like to get involved please contact Lyndsay Carter on 01485 601700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.