Importance of caring for the carers

A COUNTY charity has a simple message for people looking after a loved one — you are not alone.

Carers Northumberland is urging those who are constantly taking care of someone who is ill, frail or disabled to get in touch as they could be missing out on vital support.

And as part of Carers Week, which runs this week until Sunday, it is seeking views from carers about the one thing that would improve their lives to put together a report on their needs.

Ponteland resident Betty Johnston has been looking after her 81-year-old husband Walter since he had a stroke when he was 59.

He suffered severe angina about 10 years later and required quadruple bypass surgery, then had another stroke not long after.

Two years ago he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, which effects the bone marrow.

He was found to have bowel cancer last year and had an operation to remove his colon.

Mrs Johnston, 79, said: “When he had his first stroke Walter’s short-term memory started to go and it has got worse since then, particularly in the last two years.

“Although he can wash and dress, he forgets things very quickly so I can’t allow him to go out on his own because he wouldn’t know how to get back home.

“I can’t go away for a weekend and I’ve been with him to many hospital visits.

“I have to keeping checking on him to make sure he is all right.

“For example, one time I took a telephone call and asked Walter to turn the oven off, but he couldn’t remember which was the oven switch and accidentally turned the grill on.”

Two years ago, after learning that Carers Northumberland had opened a branch in Ponteland, Mrs Johnston went along.

“I can’t speak highly enough of Carers Northumberland,” she said.

“I felt comfortable speaking to staff because they knew what I was going through and once I told them about my circumstances they helped me get me a bigger allowance.

“When I met up with other carers I discovered that it’s not just me who is in this situation and some people are worse off because I also have excellent support from my daughters and granddaughter.”

There are more than 35,000 carers in Northumberland and researchers at the University of Leeds put the value of unpaid caring in the county at £673million.

Carers Northumberland Chief Executive Sandi Downing said: “Of course, the real value of caring can’t be calculated because it’s not just about money. It’s about respect, affection, and maintaining people in families and communities.

“But all this comes at a cost, and unfortunately, it’s usually a cost to carers themselves.

“In many cases, when a person is caring for a wife or husband, a child or neighbour, they don’t even consider themselves carers, caring is just something they do and as a result their contribution is hidden.

“But it’s important to recognise that whatever the level of care you’re providing, there is support out there for you.”

For more information about Carers Northumberland telephone 0844 8007354 or visit www.carersnorthumberland.org