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Being a carer

This introductory page looks at what it means to be a carer, and explains where you can get help and support: from social work, from your GP's surgery or from carers' centres and other voluntary organisations.

What is a carer?

A carer is someone who looks after a friend, family member or neighbour who is physically or mentally ill, elderly or disabled, or needs help with day-to-day living. This doesn't include professional care workers such as nurses in residential care homes or assistants employed by disabled people - carers aren't paid for their work. In fact, many people who look after someone don't consider themselves to be 'carers' - they see themselves as a daughter, father, mother, etc. However, this can mean that they do not get the help to which they are entitled.

Getting help from social work

If you are new to caring, your first point of contact should be your council's social work department - you can find contact details in the phone book or on your council's website. The social work department can carry out a community care assessment to see what can be done to make life easier for the person you look after. You can also ask for your needs to be assessed, to see what help you need as a carer - this is known as a carer's assessment. You can find out more about carer's assessments and the kind of help you can get from social work here.

Getting help from your GP's surgery

If you are caring for someone, it's a good idea to let your doctor know. They can offer you help and advice, not only on the condition of the person you care for, but also on keeping fit and healthy yourself and combating stress, anxiety and depression. Remember, you need to look after your own health and well-being, as well as the health of the person you're caring for. If you become ill, you won't be able to care at all.

In addition, you can get help and support from other health workers based at your GP's surgery:

  • The practice nurse can carry out routine health checks at the surgery.
  • The district nurse can visit you and the person you care for at home, to provide medical treatment such as changing dressings on wounds, saving you a trip to the surgery. They can also offer you advice in your caring role, for example by demonstrating how to give injections or lift the person properly, and can arrange for you to get special equipment such as walking aids.
  • The health visitor offers support and advice to the parents of disabled children, and can also provide general information on keeping healthy and preventing illness.

Getting help from carers' centres

Most areas will have a carers' centre. These are run by the council or by voluntary organisations such as the Princess Royal Trust for Carers. Carers' centres offer a variety of services, including:

  • support groups for carers
  • advice on all aspects of caring
  • help with applying for benefits
  • training in caring skills.

You can find contact details for carers' centres in the finding help section of the Carers Scotland website or on your council's website.

Getting help from other voluntary organisations

You can also get help from voluntary organisations that support people with the same illness or disability as the person you care for, such as Alzheimer Scotland, Age UK and Macmillan. Visit the help directory of the Princess Royal Trust for Carers website for a comprehensive list.

How can I get in touch with other carers?

Looking after someone can be isolating, and you may feel that no-one else around you understands what you're going through. In this situation, it can really help to get in touch with other carers for some support or even just to chat. You can do this through the following means:

  • Support groups at your local carers' centre - some centres will run several groups, to support people in different situations. For example, they may run groups for young carers or carers from different ethnic minority backgrounds, or for carers who look after people with particular conditions, such as dementia, cancer or AIDS.
  • Online discussion forums at carers' websites, such as the Carers Scotland forums, and at websites concerned with specific disabilities and illnesses, such as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Scope (cerebral palsy) and Rethink (mental illness) websites.
  • The Princess Royal Trust for Carers, which runs carers' centres across the UK and has online forums for carers to use.

What if I need a break?

It's important for your own health and well-being to spend time away from the person you care for, doing something for yourself that you enjoy. There are lots of services available to help lighten the load - and don't forget that you can always ask friends and other family to do their bit. Read the page on getting a break to find out more.

What if I can no longer cope?

If your health, or the health of the person you look after, deteriorates and you can no longer manage to care for them, you may have to consider moving them into permanent residential care. This can be a difficult and emotional decision to make, but you can get support and advice from your local carers' centre.

You can get advice on finding and paying for residential care from:

Where can I find out more?

The organisations listed on the useful links for carers page can provide more information and advice on caring for someone at home.

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