A Day In The Life Of A Carer Hub Volunteer

A Day In The Life Of A Carer Hub Volunteer

Story By Andy Graham


Carer Hub Volunteer Kevin

It’s one of the ironies of life that if you ask someone if they know an unpaid carer, they’ll often say no. Even when they’re sat next to the person they look after.

That’s the situation that sometimes faces Carer Hub volunteer Kevin O’Callaghan, who helps support carers at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. People rarely want to sing their own praises, he finds, or ask for help.

But life is full of surprises and when I go to visit Kevin in the hospital atrium, we are immediately met by a couple from Wiltshire. The husband is looking after his wife and his mother and, though in good humour, seems tired and in need of somewhere to turn.

Making a referral to his local carers centre is easily done, but it’s not always the case. Kevin has found that some people can be defensive, especially if they think you want money. Luckily, with his 34 years in sales and marketing at BT, Kevin is quickly able to diffuse the issue.

As we go out to chat to visitors, he admits that getting a positive response is often reliant on the question you ask.

“I used to just say, ‘are you a carer’” says Kevin. “Often people would just say ‘no’. Then I started to ask if they knew any carers, and that opened up a conversation which could often lead in a more positive direction.”

And indeed, as we move through the coffee shop, we get to hear a lot of fascinating stories.

“You’ve got to be careful not to make assumptions,” says Kevin. “I approached a man sat next to a women in a wheelchair. When I asked him if he was a carer, his wife piped up that in fact she was, caring for her husband who had dementia.”

Later, we make our way up to the cardiac ward, where visiting is in full flow. The ward staff seem friendly and the ward provides multiple opportunities for the former account manager.

“I tend to leave the wards until later in my shift,” he says. “Ward rounds are in the morning and you’re more likely to meet carers in the afternoon.”

Despite the serious purpose, there is much humour on the wards and the visiting relatives seem in good spirits. One woman from Trowbridge has survived multiple cancers and now has a heart condition. Her husband runs a small business and although he can’t see himself as a carer, admits he could use some help.

Before we finish for the day, we go back to the coffee shop. Kevin sets himself a target of around 8 contacts and, like all good salesmen, likes to meet this self-imposed quota.

“My record is 32,” he says, “but I was working with another volunteer at the time.”

Closing the Hub portal for the day, he reflects on his role, which he discovered while attending the hospital for treatment. “I enjoy it,” he says. “It’s as much or as little as you want to make it, and it’s very social.”

If you are interested in volunteering for the Carer Hub, call us on 0800 0388 885 or drop us an email at: info@banescarerscentre.org.uk

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Dawn’s Volunteering Journey At The Carers’ Centre

Dawn has been volunteering at the Carers’ Centre for the last three years. Here’s her story:

My mum was ill from the age of 45 with early onset Dementia. There had probably been signs even before that. I was 17 at the time and my brothers and sisters were younger than me. I don’t even think the term “young carer” existed in those days, so it could be quite isolating. I’d have to give up things ordinary teenagers would take for granted, especially on a Friday night when I couldn’t go out with friends. Close friends knew but maybe I wasn’t always honest about what was going on. I wouldn’t say, “hey, the reason I’m not going out tonight is I’m looking after mum.”

Eventually, she went into a care home, but even then, there’s a struggle to give up a caring role. At first you look forward to the respite and not having the problems. But it’s also hard to relinquish things, when you’ve taken on such a protective role. So although my mum passed away ten years ago, caring’s been a big part of my life. It’s not to say you have to have caring experience to volunteer, but for me it’s definitely been a part of it.

And helping at the Carers’ Centre, you do use parts of your experience. Although you can’t generalise that everyone’s the same, you just appreciate that carers are here and it’s their precious time to have five minutes to themselves, get their thoughts together and get ready for the next day and challenge.

I found out about the Carers’ Centre through the Banes website. My volunteering started off gently with the gardening, which felt very easy to fit around my life. When you first do a voluntary role it’s like having another job, and with doing the 9-5 and paid work, that’s not always easy. So it was a nice introduction because I found my feet, got to meet people and it’s really welcoming here.

The first break activity I did was a pottery workshop with older carers. You have instructors, it’s not like you’re doing the workshop yourself and you get to engage with the carers that come. Sometimes you get to help and participate in a workshop, which has been an absolute joy and made volunteering far more rewarding for me.

I come from an art design background and what blows me away is their artistic skills. They’ll be the first to say “I don’t have an artistic bone in my body” but I’m ashamed to put my contribution on the table sometimes because they’ve really put their heart and soul into it. I think there’s a little bit of “you don’t always know what’s going to be happening next Wednesday”, so they really put in a lot of effort.

The satisfaction in volunteering is sometimes just the fact that you’ve done something. It’s lovely mixing with different people, so refreshing to hear about their lives and understand what they’re going through. Volunteering opens your eyes, in a nice way, it’s not all miserable. We’ve had crochet nights and been giggling over the most ridiculous things. It’s easy to get caught up in your own self and that’s what I find so refreshing about helping out here. You meet some really lovely people. Volunteering’s also given me a lot of confidence to do other things. It’s easy to pigeon-hole yourself and I think it’s given me more people-facing skills. Meeting people, just taking time to talk. We live in a society where you don’t always know your neighbours and I suppose my motto is, if you’re fed up hearing yourself moaning, do something about it. That’s how you’re going to change the world .

If you’d like to know more about volunteering at the Carers’ Centre in Bath and North East Somerset, go to our website at www.banescarerscentre.org.uk or call 0800 0388 885 or email us at: info@banescarerscentre.org.uk

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Carer Conversations Session 5: Paul

Carer Paul, who cares for his mother, talks about how he has struggled to prioritise his own health and wellbeing. He feels that taking a break helped him to realise how important it is to look after yourself.

“The [Carers’ Centre Staff Member] took the time to make sure I was included. Going on that day out revitalised me, re-energised me. Depression is a roller coaster and I’ve been down but I still have that day out to hold on to… As an organisation you’re enabling me to give more to my mother.”

Take a listen here.

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Coping with caring over christmas

Christmas can be a stressful time especially for carers.

Christmas is a stressful time for many people. It’s meant to be a time for family, festivities and fun, but when you’re a carer it can be an incredibly challenging time having to look after someone while dealing with the  extra pressures of the holiday season. 

So we’ve asked carers to share their tips and advice on how they cope with caring over Christmas.

Don’t let the holidays get you down, reach out to others for help .

Helen shared her secret of how she keeps herself and her young son happy in the build-up to the holidays. “Sometimes it’s hard to get into the Christmas spirit. So I look and see what charity events are taking place, and try to support as many as I can.  

“There’s lots going on, particularly at this time of year.“ She also added that giving to a charitable cause helped her feel ‘Christmasy.’ 

It’s not only carers that can be overwhelmed by the festivities, but the cared-for can find it distressing. 

“My brother is used to a routine, so the holiday can be unsettling for him,“  said Teresa, who cares for her brother with learning difficulties.  “So I always talk him through what’s going to be happening on the day. I have to plan ahead to let him know what’s in store as well as being very organised.”

Sometimes it’s hard to maintain focus during the Christmas chaos, so advanced planning is crucial. Make sure you’ve got all the medication you need to see you through to the New Year, and get the emergency contact details for Social Services , your GP and the hospital. Also find out opening and closing times so you know when they are available.

Alison, who is the daughter of a carer, said: “We have a large family, and my mother has always prepared the meal on Christmas Day. However last year, it was evident the stress of looking after Dad, and trying to cater for all of us was too much. So this year we’ve decided to share the load and everyone  is pitching in and bringing a dish to share. 

“We had to suggest it, as she is very proud and wouldn’t ask for help.”

As a carer it’s important to look after yourself first, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. ’Tis the season of giving and goodwill so don’t hesitate  to contact friends and family when you are in need of assistance or if you just  need to talk. 

We would love for more carers to share their stories on how they cope over the holidays, so please share your stories with us and leave a comment.

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Carer Conversations Session 4: Maggie

Maggie’s husband Al was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The most difficult thing for her was the fact that he knew and recognised most other people… but not her. She discusses the impact on their relationship, her wellbeing and how she managed while she was caring for Al.

“One day we were sat having our dinner and he looked at me and said, you are my wife, aren’t you? And I laughed and said of course I am! I still didn’t grasp that he was really asking, that he really didn’t know me.”

Click here to listen to part 1.

Click here to listen to part 2.

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November: Men’s Health Awareness Month – Bryan’s story

Being responsible for the day-to-day care of a loved one puts an incredible strain on a carer’s wellbeing. A recent survey by Carers’ UK revealed 72 percent of carers suffered poor mental health and 61 percent were affected physically due to the stresses of their caring role.

With November being Men’s Health Awareness Month I was curious to know how many carers are men and what impact did caring have on their health.

According to research carried out by the Carers Trust and Men’s Health Forum, more than four in 10 (42 %) of the UK’s unpaid carers are male. Fifty-six percent of male carers aged 18-64 said being a carer had a negative impact on their mental health while 55% said that their health was “fair or poor”.

Bryan was lonely after his wife moved in to a care home, but now he enjoys regular days out with the  Carers’ Centre.

Bryan is just one of the many male carers who has benefited from the Carers’ Centre’s support and well-being programme.

His wife, Jill, was diagnosed with vascular dementia and after caring for her for nearly two years, she is now in a care home, where he regularly visits.

He said: “Once Jill had gone into the home, our house became very quiet and the  evenings were extremely long.”

Bryan found he was filling his days and nights with  the TV and radio as he didn’t want to burden his family.

He said:  “I can ring the family, but I don’t want to disturb them after about half past seven, eight o’clock at night, so it became long and a little bit boring. Time can hang lonely and you can get used to being on your own and you can isolate yourself from other people.”

Continue reading

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Carers’ Centre Volunteer Cafe – An audience with Television Writer Ray Brooking

A new initiative at the Carers’ Centre is the Volunteer Cafe, where volunteers have the chance to meet and chat over cake and coffee and hear from a program of local speakers.

To get the ball rolling, the Carers’ Centre invited award-winning television screenwriter and Clevedon resident Ray Brooking to give a talk about his 24 year career working on some of the biggest shows in popular drama.

As well as writing for The Bill, Casualty and EastEnders, Ray has also been on the writing team of WPC 56 and been nominated for an RTS award for BBC1s “Doctors” for which he has written over a hundred episodes.

Initially inspired by his love of comic books, Ray talked about his childhood watching shows such as “Z Cars” and “Juliet Bravo”, and the excitement of seeing his first episode of “The Bill” screened in 1995.

He also explained the pleasures and frustrations of working with limited time, sets and actors and the ingenuity required to weave his own plots into pre-existing formats.

“It’s the plotting I love, ” he said, “taking a simple idea and developing it to its full potential, there’s nothing like it.”

Ray’s next episode of “Doctors”,  “Empty Arms” will be screened at 1.45pm on BBC1 on Wednesday 30th October 2019

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Carer Conversations Session 3: Dee

Dee cares for her grandmother, who has dementia, as well as her son who suffered a brain injury following an accident. Here she talks about the differences in her caring roles and how she manages her family life — generally with a sense of humour.

“I think humour is the best way to cope with most things… you’ve got to laugh otherwise you might cry.”

Click here to hear Dee’s Carer Conversation.

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Understanding ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Children and adults who have ADHD find it difficult to concentrate and focus.

October is ADHD Awareness Month

“He has issues” my sister used to say when I asked about my young nephew.  She never went into detail what the issues were but his hyperactivity was excused as “his father was hyper when he was a boy.”

However my nephew’s issues became more apparent at the age of six when he started school.  The reports of impulsive outbursts were interspersed with bouts of inability to focus or comprehend what he was being told or what he had read. But again that was pushed to the side by my sister because “he could focus when he was interested.” And yes, he could spend hours with his collection of Star Wars figures, Pokemon cards and video games.

It wasn’t until this year when he turn 18 and that my sister decided to have him tested. Throughout his 12 years of schooling he had always had extra tutoring, but when he failed to score high enough on an exam to get into university, she needed another excuse.

When we spoke, she didn’t say he had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) but said:  “He has trouble with his executive functions.” That meant nothing to me until I saw the documentary ADHD: Not Just for Kids.

It was then I learnt more about ADHD which is defined as a complex neuro-biological disorder that interferes with a person’s executive functions. This includes focus, memory, organisation, and regulating emotions. This is something that you don’t outgrow but symptoms can become less obvious as people age. An adult may not be hyperactive, but still have an inability to concentrate.

The more I read about ADHD, I thought: “I have that”…as I’d experienced similar symptoms while growing up as I was shy, withdrawn and liked to daydream and now  going through menopause, and bouts of  anxiety and depression I found it hard to focus, remember things and my emotions were totally erratic.  However, everyone has trouble occasionally with some of the traditional ADHD symptoms, but for people with the disorder, it can interfere in their everyday life. 

Thankfully now my nephew is getting help with coping strategies, such as regular exercise, practising mindfulness and regulating his sleep patterns.

ADHD affects 4.4 per cent of adults and is usually diagnosed earlier in boys than in girls.  Boys are typically more hyperactive and easier to spot, leaving many young girls and woman undiagnosed. Many girls aren’t hyperactive but are easily distracted and have a hard time concentrating.  They are usually the daydreamers that sit at the back of the classroom. Girls with ADHD are more likely to be diagnosed later in life and are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 

This information got me to thinking about someone I know. In her mid-30s, she portrays a shy, withdrawn “little girl” image and I reasoned it was because she is an introvert. It was then suggested by a mother whose daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD that perhaps she is “on the spectrum”.  Suddenly the penny dropped. No longer did I think she’s just wanting attention, and I could view her situation which compassion.  I only wish I understood about the levels of ADHD earlier on, as it would have helped me relate better with her and others.

So as October is ADHD Awareness month, let’s dispel a few myths about the disorder.

ADHD is not an illness: ADHD is a neuro-biologically-based disorder that’s the result of an imbalance of chemical neurotransmitters in the brain. Simply put, those with ADHD have brains that are wired differently.

ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. It can be genetic with children having more than a 50 per cent chance of inheriting ADHD from their parents. It can also be caused by neurological factors such as pregnancy complications, brain damage, and prenatal exposure to toxins, such as alcohol and tobacco.

Too much “screen time, ”  junk food and sugar isn’t to blame either. This has been linked to many other problems in childhood such as inactivity, obesity, and poor nutrition,  but there is no strong evidence that these cause ADHD which is also not an excuse for laziness.

Not everyone displays the same ADHD symptoms which can include a spectrum of issues from inattentiveness to hyperactivity or impulsiveness.  Only when the symptoms are numerous and severe enough do doctors make a diagnosis of ADHD. 

If you are caring for a child or adult with ADHD, the Carers’ Centre is here to help.  And for more support groups specifically on ADHD in the BANES area click here . For more information on ADHD in the UK check out The ADHD Foundation.

We’d like for you to share your story as together we grow! If you care for someone with ADHD or have been diagnosed with ADHD, please comment on this blog or email me at carmen.cooper@banescarerscentre.org.uk.

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Carer Conversations Session 2: Immie & Bassie

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

September means back to school and we’re thinking about the young carers who maybe didn’t get so much of a break over the summer as their peers. Young carers can face a very challenging time at home with ill, disabled or frail relatives, struggling with sleep, managing homework, or keeping up with friends.

In this Carer Conversations session, two young people share their powerful stories. Bassie tells of the confidence he’s gained by getting involved with his local young carers service. And Immie shares her experience of being a young carer in school and the heartbreaking challenges she faced. Click the links below to listen.

“I couldn’t physically get her up from the floor. She had a concussion… And no one stopped to help.”

Bassie talks about gaining confidence

Immie shares her young carer experience

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