What is a carer?
A carer is someone who provides unpaid support to family or friends who could not manage without this support. Around one in eight adults in the UK are carers. Often people don’t choose to become carers, it just happens. Many people feel that they are doing what anyone else would do in the same situation.
Being a carer can be a kind, admirable and selfless act. At times though, it can be challenging, and carers sometimes feel overwhelmed, exhausted and isolated. Taking on caring responsibilities can also affect your finances. If you are about to start caring for someone after a stroke it’s vital that you have the right information and support to help you both.
The impact of stroke
Stroke can have many different effects on someone, including problems with mobility, swallowing and continence. It can affect their vision and cause communication problems, fatigue and problems with memory and concentration. It can also have emotional effects, like depression and anxiety. It can also cause personality changes. These changes can have a big impact on everyone in a family as well as the stroke survivor.
You may feel a deep sense of loss as the person you know and love may not seem to be the same. And sometimes, these changes can affect your feelings towards them.
Keep reminding yourself, and others, that any changes are the result of the stroke and that they have no control over them.
Working together with family or friends and supporting one another will help you all to come to terms with what has happened.
Family members who live far away also have a role to play in keeping up morale. You may find it helpful to nominate a contact person, who can keep the rest of the family informed. This will take some pressure off you and give you more time to rest and recuperate.
Some people leaving hospital after a stroke only need a small amount of care, but others have more complex needs. The medical team and social services should work together with you, and the person you are caring for, to create a care plan based on their needs.
Part of this process should include a care needs assessment for your loved one to determine what support they need, and a carer’s assessment to identify your needs as a carer.
What if my situation changes?
A review of the care plan should take place once your loved one has returned home. You should be told when and how frequently it will happen. If this does not happen or the person you are caring for was not admitted to hospital, contact your local authority and ask for a community care assessment.
Caring from a distance
Many families live away from the person who has had a stroke, and they may have significant family and work commitments. If it’s only possible for you to provide occasional support, you should make it clear to the health professionals involved that you will continue to live apart from the person you are caring for and that while you are involved in planning their return home, you will not be able to contribute to their day-by-day care.
If you’re arranging ongoing care for a person after a stroke but live elsewhere, there are a few things that you might want to consider to help them at home. To improve safety in the home, install fire or smoke alarms, and door entry systems. You may want to consider a community alarm (a 24-hour phone link to the local emergency response centre). Ensure that the person can easily find everything that they might need (for example, medications), and try using weekly planners.
If you're a carer, or thinking about becoming one, you have a right to have an assessment of your needs. This is called a carer’s assessment. You’re entitled to an assessment and to receive help even if the person you care for refuses help.
A social worker, or another professional nominated by the local authority, will carry out your assessment. They will look at your role as a carer and the effect it has on you. The assessment will establish how much caring you do (or will do) and how that affects other areas of your life such as work, training or leisure activities. You can ask for the assessment before you start caring, or at any other stage if you have already started being a carer.
Before your assessment, think carefully about what kind of support you might need. This can be difficult if the person you’re caring for hasn’t returned home yet, but the staff at the hospital may be able to give you information about the tasks your loved one will need help with.
What help will we receive at home?
Once the person you’re caring for is at home, their GP becomes responsible for their medical care. The medical team should write to the person’s GP, giving information about their treatment and future care needs, including medication. You may wish to contact the GP to ensure that they know the person you’re caring for is coming home.
Specialist stroke nurses or district nurses can provide nursing support for people living at home. The GP can make a referral to see one. They may offer practical help with tasks such as moving, washing, feeding and dressing, and show you how to do them safely. They will also have skills in more specialist areas such as feeding for people with severe swallowing difficulties, continence and caring for wounds and leg ulcers. They might be able to help with rehabilitation exercises and arrange equipment like a wheelchair or alterations to your home.
In some areas, intermediate care services are available (sometimes called Early Supported Discharge). These are services to help a person return home from hospital sooner and continue their recovery at home, including rehabilitation therapies. The person should be able to continue any rehabilitation services such as physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy, and receive any personal care they need.
Before leaving hospital, the person you’re caring for may be assessed for these services and a structured plan may be made with agreed goals and timescales for the therapists and patient to work towards.
If the person you’re caring for doesn’t receive intermediate care (Early Supported Discharge), they may still be able to receive further rehabilitation once they’re at home. Ask a member of the medical team at the hospital, or their GP, if they have already come home, about receiving rehabilitation they need after leaving hospital.
Community care services
These services may help with personal care (for example, getting in and out of bed, bathing, dressing), daycare, meals on wheels and respite care. They often involve carers coming to your home to help with specific tasks.
Local authorities will usually only provide services for people who have the highest levels of need. They vary in what help they can offer and the person you care for may need to contribute to the cost.
Aids and adaptations
Your local authority can arrange for someone (usually an occupational therapist) to assess what aids or adaptations would make life easier at home such as grab rails or ramps. If major adaptations to their home are needed, the person can apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant. This is available through local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, you can apply to the local authority’s Scheme of Assistance for help with repairing and adapting housing if you have a disability.
We've partnered with Essential Aids, who provide daily living aids to help make everyday tasks easier.
You should be given information about local groups and services for people who have had a stroke and for you as a carer, such as day centres.
What if my loved one can’t come home?
Caring for the person affected by stroke at home may not be the best or most feasible solution. You might consider other options, such as sheltered housing (where a warden can look in regularly), or a care home. This may be a very difficult decision to make and not one that you will make lightly or quickly.
The amount of recovery someone will make and the amount of time it takes varies. The biggest improvements usually takes place in the early weeks or months, but recovery can continue for years.
Some people make an almost full recovery. Most people recover enough to be able to do many of the things they did before, perhaps with some support. Some people will have disabilities and other problems. Depending on the effects of their stroke, they may need help to live independently, or they may need to live in residential care.
If your loved one is likely to need a lot of support after leaving hospital, you may decide to become their main carer, responsible for their day-to-day care.
Tips to help recovery
Many carers ask us how to they can help the person they are caring for to recover. Becoming a carer and supporting your loved one is a great start to making them feel independent again. Here are some suggestions that may help.
- Ask for guidance from the professionals who have played a major role in your loved one’s recovery. Their input will help you.
- Encourage the person to take on family responsibilities right from the start. You may need to find new roles that are manageable to help to boost their confidence and maintain their relationships with other family members.
- Try not to be overprotective. You need to find the right balance between helping the person you care for and developing their independence. Encourage them to do as much as they can, right from the start. This may be a very slow process and can be frustrating at first, but in the long run, it is the best way to help someone.
- Be patient. Stroke damages the brain, which can make it difficult to relearn even simple tasks.
- Set up a daily routine that works for both of you. This may take time, but will be worth it. Think about the daily tasks that the person can either do independently, can start to relearn or will need help with. Plot the time that each task will take then draw up a list of small steps towards relearning some of the missing skills. Build in short, but frequent, periods in the day to practise movements, exercises and skills.
- Be positive. Recovering from a stroke is a slow process and so your praise is needed for every sign of progress, however small. Reassure the person that you are caring for that things can get better, especially when progress seems slow.
If you’re caring for someone you may be faced with higher heating bills and costly equipment or home alterations. Your loved one may have had to give up work because of their stroke, or you may be considering giving up work. Inevitably this will reduce your income and social contact.
It may help to consider reducing your hours, or finding a job nearer home. Some carers have the right to request flexible working hours, and though employers are not legally bound to agree, there must be a good business reason for saying no.
If you become a full-time carer, you may be entitled to claim Carer’s Allowance. If you care for someone for at least 35 hours a week, you may be eligible. For information on how to apply, contact a carers’ organisation or visit a carer’s centre.
If you decide to give up work, check what help you’re entitled to under your pension scheme (if you have one). If you are not working or claiming Carer’s Allowance, you may be able to claim Carer’s Credit to help protect your state pension.
The cost of care services
Local authorities will usually only provide services for people who have the highest levels of need. They vary in what help they can offer and the person you care for may need to contribute to the cost.
Charging for community care services is complicated. Local authorities can charge for some or all of the services they provide. There may be a flat rate for a service or it may be means-tested, so they will ask about the person’s income and savings and then charge according to a sliding scale. Free personal care is available for people aged over 65 in Scotland.
If you need advice about paying for community care services, speak to a specialist organisation like Citizens Advice or a carer’s centre.
If you (or the person you care for) have been assessed as needing support, it is your right to receive direct payments instead of services. This means your local authority will give you money directly so you can choose how to arrange your own services. This will give you more choice and control over the support you receive. For example, you can use the payments to help with taxi fares, a short holiday or help with housework.
Direct payments are voluntary so you don’t have to have them if you would rather receive services directly from your local council.
Direct payments are available in the UK, and you apply to your local authority (or trust in Northern Ireland). You could become an employer if you pay someone to work for you, so you will need to learn about the responsibilities involved in this. Contact Carers UK for more information about direct payments.
You may find that the person you are looking after has difficulty managing their affairs. He or she may be unable to sign cheques or use online banking, or may have difficulties in making or communicating their own decisions (sometimes referred to as a lack of mental capacity).
Ask the bank if they have any help to allow people with disabilities to access their services. This could include talking cash machines, large print bank statements, communication support in the branch or accessible debit cards.
If someone is unable to make their own decisions, they can appoint someone to have lasting power of attorney (LPA). This could be a family member, friend or carer. This nominated person would then be able to make decisions about their property and finances or their health and welfare, if, in the future, they are unable to do so themselves.
Coping in the early days
Stroke is a sudden and serious condition and can come as a shock. Suddenly seeing a loved one unwell can be very upsetting. You might not understand what has happened or may find it difficult to know how to support them. It is natural to feel overwhelmed, but as you come to terms with what has happened, you might want to know how you can help. Here are some ideas.
- Start by talking to the medical team. Ask them to explain what has happened and clarify anything you don’t understand.
- While your loved one is in hospital, it can help to keep a note of day-by-day changes. The medical team will find this helpful, as you may be the first to be aware of any changes or improvements. For the person who is recovering, this may become a precious record of their progress since their stroke.
- Ask the medical team whether there are any small ways in which you can assist with your loved one’s care. As time goes on, ask the rehabilitation team to show you ways to provide support between therapy sessions. This could mean helping your loved one re-learn skills or practicing therapy exercises together.
- Focus on one day at a time. Recovering from a stroke is a gradual process. Encourage and motivate your loved one as much as possible.
- Keep hold of useful information and contacts. Your needs can change over time, and you may find it is helpful in future.
- Remember to look after yourself. Take breaks, get some exercise and plenty of sleep, and plan regular healthy meals.
Looking after yourself
A stroke can have a huge impact on the whole family. It is common for someone who has had a stroke to feel quite low on returning home and to need a lot of encouragement. They may have less control over the small, everyday decisions many of us make without thinking – when to get out of bed, take a shower or phone a friend, and this can be difficult to cope with.
You and other family members may be faced with new roles and responsibilities. You may find yourself suddenly having to take over tasks such as cooking, housework or managing the family finances because the person you care for can no longer do them. You may need to think about learning to drive, rearranging your home to make it safer, or even moving house.
You may need to help your loved one with a daily therapy routine or by finding new activities and pastimes for them. This may take up your time but will be worth it in the long run.
Caring for someone is a huge responsibility. It is realistic, not selfish, to think carefully about taking care of yourself. If you don’t look after yourself, you risk becoming stressed or exhausted and this could also affect the person you’re caring for.
When your loved one first comes home, keep a diary for a week. This may help you establish what help or support you need. Social services should review the situation from time to time to see whether your needs have changed, but if your situation changes, ask for a review straight away.
Back strain is a common problem caused by moving someone. A community or district nurse or occupational therapist can teach you how to help someone move safely so you don’t strain your back. They may also be able to show you relaxation techniques to help with tiredness or stress. Your local carers’ centre may offer classes to overcome these issues. A gentle exercise routine that gets you out of the house can increase your energy levels and help you feel more positive.
It’s important to recognise if you’re feeling tired or depressed. Taking regular breaks is crucial. This might involve having a few hours to yourself every day or arranging more formal respite care. Try to organise the day so that you have at least a little time to yourself. Ask family members or friends for help with specific tasks, if you need it. You may also want to find a local carers’ support group to meet others in the same position as you.
A carers’ centre or organisation can offer advice, information and practical support in your area. You can find their details by contacting the Stroke Helpline, social services, your GP, or the hospital where the person you are caring for was treated after their stroke.
Many carers can feel socially isolated. Friends may avoid contact because they might not be sure how to behave towards someone who has had a stroke. You may also worry about leaving the person you are caring for alone whilst you socialise with people. Try to keep in touch with others. While some friendships may fade away, you can build up new ones with people who share your interests. Stroke clubs and carers’ groups can be a good starting point. Contact the Stroke Helpline for details.
Respite care (sometimes called short breaks) is designed to give carers a break. It could be:
- Care at home from a trained care assistant or volunteer, for a few hours a week.
- Care outside the home, for example, at a day centre or social club.
- Longer breaks (from days to weeks) in a residential or nursing home.
The respite services offered vary widely, so ask your local authority about what is available in your area. Services may be provided by the NHS, social services, and voluntary or private organisations. If the person needing care is eligible for NHS respite care, it is usually free. Other respite care services may charge, or ask you to contribute towards the costs.
Where can I get further information and advice?
Many of the organisations providing information and support to people who have had a stroke also offer services to their carers. Others are dedicated to meeting the needs of carers alone.
Information and local support for people affected by all types of dementia and their carers. The website has information on coping with memory loss.
NHS guide to care and support
Offers online guidance and information for carers. Also provides confidential UK-wide information, advice and signposting for carers through their Carers Direct helpline (open seven days a week).
UK-wide network of local services providing information, advice, respite, advocacy and emotional support, including services for young carers too.
This charity campaigns for justice for carers. Their local branches provide a variety of support services, ranging from money advice and advocacy to emotional support and befriending.
A national charity providing advice and support to older people and their families. Independent Age offers regular phone calls and visits to older people, as well as free, impartial information and advice on the issues that matter.
Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC)
Information and advice for older people and their relatives and carers to help them make informed decisions about housing and care needs. You can link to their searchable database of retirement housing and care homes.
Tourism for All UK (TFA)
Provides information to older and disabled people and their carers on accessible holiday accommodation, travel and leisure and a range of other facilities and services. You can search their online directory of accommodation, accessible tourist attractions and respite care.