Gradually becoming a carer

Caring for an older family member or friend starts in different ways for different people.

How caring starts

Caring for an older family member or friend starts in different ways for different people. While the need for this help can occur suddenly (e.g. after a stroke) often it is gradual. You may start doing small things to help your family member and realise that increasingly they require more of your time. This is not uncommon as people age - the need for support from family and friends becomes greater. For some time, your family member may not have a name or diagnosis for what they are experiencing. This may be a confusing and frustrating time when neither of you knows what to expect or how best to help.

Things you may start noticing 

There are things you may start noticing which signal that your family member needs more help. At first you may dismiss these because the changes you see in your family member are subtle.

These changes might include:

  • worsening health
  • losing weight
  • starting to have falls
  • seeming 'flat' or uninterested in things
  • having difficulty organising things
  • stopping going out - or pulling away from others
  • having trouble remembering things
  • stopping doing things that used to come naturally; or
  • doing things that are unsafe and potentially harmful.
Why these things are hard to address 

It may take time to piece things together and fully understand the situation for your family member. In the meantime you may feel as though you are guessing - or sometimes even imagining things. To make this harder, your family member may dismiss your concerns or try to 'hide' the difficulties they now face. Often it can be hard to accept the changes you are seeing. It may be easier to dismiss them yourself or accept the explanation your family member provides - at least for the time being. When you are concerned enough to talk to other family members or friends about your suspicions, they might not be ready to hear them or may not share your concerns. You may be left feeling quite alone at a time when you really need support.

How to act on your concerns

First, check your concerns with others. Speak to people who see your family member regularly - perhaps their neighbour or a friend at their day club. Try to build a clear picture of the difficulties and changes your family member is facing. Second, start raising your concerns with others in the family. Describe the things you have noticed. Try to help them understand the situation - get them involved. Third, talk to your family member's doctor (GP). You could also speak to a health professional or service provider who knows your family member. Ask their advice. Seek their help.

Tips from others who gradually started caring 
  • Gently raise your concerns with your family member - encourage them to seek help
  • Getting a diagnosis is important - it can explain much
  • Be persistent with your family member's GP - don't let them dismiss your concerns
  • Speak to them privately if necessary
  • Seek a second opinion from another doctor if you need to
  • Get others in your family involved - this might take time
  • Talk to someone you trust - you won't feel so alone.