Frontlines – Older carers

One of our team of practitioner columnists gives her take on older carers

The caring role is usually reversed as people grow older. Our parents care for us in our childhood. But in middle age many of us care for our parents, to some degree.

When a person has learning difficulties, the picture becomes more complicated. If they were born in the immediate post-war period, the options were not always good.

Some parents were encouraged to let their children be brought up in hospitals and institutions. Many chose to keep their children at home, and manage the best they could, often with little help from the health and welfare departments of the day. Their stories are often similar. Like the mother who was told by a doctor to forget about her son who would “never be anything but a vegetable” and to concentrate on her other child.

Many parents keep their sons and daughters with them into adulthood. Their caring role, as parents, never went away.

Now elderly themselves, they still care on a daily basis. Their middle-aged sons and daughters may need help with personal and health care, shopping, cooking, cleaning, transport, work, leisure, all the daily activities that make up our lives. These parents in their sixties, seventies, eighties, even nineties, are still supporting their sons and daughters to live at home.

That’s when the picture gets complicated, because these older parents need support themselves. They may worry about their grown up children’s future, but are reluctant to let them move on yet. Sometimes they couldn’t manage without them. Like the father with Alzheimer’s whose autistic son reminds him of daily routines, remembers when appointments are, and makes sure that appliances are switched off.

An interdependency develops, not least based on companionship, particularly after one parent has died.

On the face of it, it’s not a situation to be encouraged. People with learning difficulties may have had no real choice in this situation, and will be faced with a major life change when their parents die. They may become at risk when their parents’ health fails. In reality they may meet their biggest challenge ever in the parental home when they become carers themselves.

Jennifer Harvey is a day services co-ordinator working with people with learning difficulties


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