Helping carers to care through loneliness
It is estimated that there are seven million people in the UK who are caring for older, sick or disabled loved ones. In Edinburgh, the Scottish Health Survey (2013) estimated there were 65,084 unpaid carers. From this number, 36% of carers provide 20 or more hours of unpaid care per week and 21% provide over 50 hours or more of unpaid care.
Caring for a family member or friend can be a positive life experience but this can also be a cause of loneliness and isolation which can affect the carers own health and wellbeing.
Chief Executive of Carers UK, Heléna Herklots said in the report ‘Caring Alone’
“Caring for a loved one can be hugely rewarding but without support to have a life outside of caring, it can also be incredibly lonely. Pressures on finances, a lack of support to allow carers to have a break and a lack of understanding from friends and colleagues, mean many carers feel that their world is shrinking.“
In 2015 Carers UK published a report called ‘Alone and Caring’ to highlight the issues carers struggle with due to their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The key findings in the report were as follows:
- 8 out of 10 carers (83%) have felt lonely or isolated due to their caring role
- 57% have lost touch with family and friends as a result of their caring role
- Over a third (36%) feel uncomfortable talking to friends about caring, adding to feelings of loneliness and social isolation
- 45% couldn’t afford to take part in social activities
- 49% have experienced difficulties in their relationship with their partner because of their caring role
- 55% of carers felt that they were unable to get out of the house much due to their caring responsibilities
The Edinburgh Carer Support Team, based within the Department of Health and Social Care offers one to one support to carers who either self refer or are referred internally by a health or social care professional. Our contact with carers varies depending on their situation and personal requirements. Support workers can be involved for a short period of time or in more complex cases, they support carers over a period of months. In both cases, staff were always aware that when their involvement with a carer comes to an end, the caring role often continues and can change, at times, becoming more difficult. When this happens we were aware there was a ‘gap’ as carers don’t always remember they can still contact the team, or any partner agency for further support and this could lead to feelings of loneliness or isolation.
In 2015, through NHS Lothian, we were given the opportunity to use a Telehealth App called Florence, as a way to ‘keep in-touch’ with carers who had used our service but were no longer actively receiving support from a worker and we felt this could help us bridge the ‘gap’.
How does Florence work?
Carers give consent and are enrolled by their carer support worker to Florence which is essentially a text message based system. The carer then receives a series of texts over nine months which offers reminders, motivational prompts and relevant carer support information on a variety of issues. The texts to the carer are generally free and the carer can opt to stop receiving these texts at any time.
When asked what they thought of ‘Florence’ a carer said,
“I love getting all these Flo messages. I think it’s a great idea. It makes me realise I’m not the only one with problems. It gives me a little prompt and makes me think of my Carer Support Worker when I receive a text from Flo.”
One of the texts prompted this carer to look into a Mindfulness course which was being run by a local carers organisation.
Another carer commented,
“Flo lets me know what is available and what is coming up. It prompted me to check in with my local carers centre and as a result I am hoping to get back to bingo with my sister.”
This article was also featured on the ‘Living It Up’ website.
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