Carers can care well only if they are cared for, conference shows

During break times, attendees at the BSMS Carers Conference were able to visit a ‘marketplace’ of stalls by local organisations providing support for carers.

Carers can care well only if they are cared for – that is one of the messages to come out of the Sussex Caring for the Carers 2017 conference at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS).

To celebrate Carers Week (12-18 June), the conference organisers invited local researchers to share what they are doing to support carers who care for people with a wide range of conditions, ranging from disabled children, to those with mental health issues and people with cancer and dementia.

Speakers at the event on 15 June included researchers from the Universities of Sussex and Brighton, along with carers involved with research.

“Throughout the day several key themes emerged again and again,” said Research Fellow Cassie Hazell, who organised the day.

“Firstly, that carers are a vital part of our society and healthcare system – but are rarely given the recognition they deserve.

“And secondly, how important the carer’s quality of life is on the wellbeing of the person being cared for. If the carer feels unable to cope and take care of themselves, they won’t be able to provide the best care for their loved one. It’s essential that support and services are put in place to support carers.

“Carers themselves play a key role in shaping meaningful research, through participating in lived-experience advisory panels, along with taking part in research itself.”

The often unrecognised toll that caregiving can take on carers was another recurrent theme of the day. Dr Carl Walker, a psychologist from the University of Brighton, worked with 18 parent carers of children with ADHD on a programme to create a support network – he spoke of his surprise when he learned that all 18 were on antidepressants.  

But participants were also reminded that, on the flipside, caring can also bring real rewards, in terms of both personal growth of the care giver, and moments of joy spent with their care recipient.

BSMS Communications Manager and carer Julie Wilton, who attended the event, said: “Caring for a disabled child has had a massive impact on every aspect of my life. For me it was particularly valuable to hear other carers’ experiences at the conference, and to feel that I’m not alone.

“I hope that some of the exciting research we heard about will translate into better support for carers, enabling them to provide the best care that they can.”

During break times, attendees were able to visit a ‘marketplace’ of stalls by local organisations providing support for carers.

Sussex has one of the highest rates of unpaid carers in the country, and more than half of the county’s population is a carer (according to research from the Office for National Statistics). This care provided by carers across the UK has an economic value of £132 billion per year. 

There are 526,671 unpaid carers in East Sussex, while West Sussex has 806,892 unpaid carers. Carers are at an increased risk of developing their own health problems; yet little support is on offer, leaving many terribly isolated. Many people, particularly those looking after a relative, are not even aware that they are a carer.

Almost 30,000 people in Sussex provide more than 50 hours of care each week. More and more people are likely to become carers in the coming years as life expectancy increases, along with the prevalence of physical and mental health problems. This increase in carers is likely to hit Sussex particularly hard, as there are more elderly people living in Sussex compared with the national average – making it all the more important that we start caring for our carers.

Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) is a partnership between the Universities of Sussex and Brighton and the local NHS health community.

BSMS identifies research areas in medicine which can make a rapid and real difference. The medical school’s focus is on the continuous improvement of medical treatment to deliver more personalised healthcare for patients, by applying basic science to answer fundamental clinical questions.

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Posted on behalf of: Brighton and Sussex Medical School
Last updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2018