Help for carers in lockdown
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
Julia Burton-Jones, Anna Chaplaincy Church Lead, has been thinking about the plight of many carers during the current health crisis:
When a recent graduate working for Christian think tank, The Jubilee Centre, in the late 1980s, I helped create a video and training manual for churches about the needs of family carers. It was called Out of Sight, Out of Mind.
‘Out of sight, out of mind’ was never more accurate than when describing the lot of carers during these days of lockdown. The theme of this year’s Carers Week (8–14 June 2020) was ‘Making Caring Visible’.
Carers are currently obliged to isolate at home with the person for whom they provide essential help, with less support from many of the groups and services on which they normally rely for practical and moral support.
Contact with members of the local Anna Chaplaincy team has given me cause for concern in praying for carers. We hear, for example, of carers of people with dementia exhausted by the relentless pressures of caring alone, contending with fluctuating moods of a person unable to grasp why their life is so restricted.
Recent research shared by Carers UK on 17 June found that 70% of carers who typically provide more than 50 hours of care a week are providing even more care during lockdown; 55% told the charity they feel overwhelmed managing their caring responsibilities and are worried about the weeks ahead.
Unpaid carers are twice as likely to have used a food bank during the pandemic as the general public. Carers UK are calling for an uplift in the Carer’s Allowance (currently £67.25 a week) and for care services to be reinstated as soon as possible to allow carers to take a much-needed break.
What can we do to support carers during this period of heightened stress and loneliness? Small gestures of kindness go a long way, as carers told me in my project all those years ago. A phone call from a friend, an encouraging card, an offer of practical help with tasks like mowing the lawn – all these signal the concern and love of Christian friends.
I have another suggestion that might be appreciated by carers of people with dementia at this time. Why not tell them about (or better still buy them a copy of) Grace for the Unexpected Journey: A 60-day devotional for Alzheimer’s and other dementia caregivers, by Deborah Barr?
Published in the USA by Moody Publishers in 2018, it brings encouragement from scripture as well as sound practical advice based on Barr’s many years of experience supporting caregivers through the Alzheimer’s Association. It is available from online Christian booksellers in the UK.
This devotional has many stories and quotes from carers and is honest but hopeful about challenges in supporting a person with dementia, with relevant scripture references and theological reflections. The complex range of emotions experienced in caring for a person with dementia are described in the context of Christian truth. There are sections for the reader to write their responses to each devotion. The book contains wise advice on looking after yourself as a carer, as well as enabling the person with dementia to live as well as possible with their condition. This makes the book not only spiritually uplifting but also a useful manual in dementia care-giving.
We are offered down-to-earth tips on taking breaks, rebooting after a bad day, sleeping and eating well, laughter, music, and being willing to accept help from friends and family – 'Solo care-giving is like trying to carry a sofa down a flight of stairs by yourself.'
Best of all, carers of people with dementia are affirmed in their role, as we read in this section from Day 31 'Care-giving: The movie':
Few people will ever know what you do faithfully, day in and day out. But in the theatre of heaven, your story is a big hit. God, your biggest fan, intently watches in real time each day as you serve and love and sacrifice for the person in your care. He knows the meaning of every expression that crosses your face, and he reads your heart as well, so he knows you grow weary and are sometimes not 'into' doing what needs to be done. When you do it anyway, from the balcony of heaven he rejoices and applauds. He knows you are not acting, and he loves the 'movie' of your life that he is watching. He knows too that a great reward awaits you – one far more precious and eternal than any Hollywood Oscar.