Caring for the Carers
There are over 220,000 unpaid carers in Northern Ireland (approximately one in eight adults) with up to 25% providing more than 50 hours of care each week.
In 1999, a group of family carers of adults with learning disabilities came together and successfully lobbied the South East Belfast Health Trust to recognise the importance of respite for family carers. Mindful of their advancing ages, and the fact that their proactive caring role had ‘saved’ health trusts millions in pounds in care bills, they appealed to the Trust to support them by providing regular respite which would enable them to physically and mentally sustain their caring role.
Support to Sustain the Caring Role
Many carers report that caring can negatively impact their own physical and mental health. This is particularly concerning for family carers of adults with learning disabilities, as research by Caring Breaks indicates that two out of three of their family carers are over the age of 60, with one in five over the age of 80.
The provision of weekly respite sessions enables carers dedicated time off to relax and recharge their batteries secure in the knowledge that their loved one is being well cared for and supported.
Regular ‘guilt-free’ respite from caring reduces stress levels, provides the opportunity for carers to pursue their own interests and maintain social relationships while protecting and maintaining their own health & wellbeing.
Family carers express the importance of meaningful activities being provided for their loved ones that address the adult with learning disabilities’ personal development needs and not just be a ‘minding’ service.
Caring Breaks was formed to support family carers of adults with learning disabilities by providing respite care delivered by professionally trained and paid staff.
During respite, adults with learning disabilities are offered a range of recreation and leisure activites that will improve their mental health & wellbeing. Attending respite reduces isolation and loneliness as adults with learning disabilities are supported to meet and engage with their peers in a safe and happy environment.
Reducing social isolation and loneliness
In addition to weekly respite care provided to individuals and in small groups, Caring Breaks offers extended periods of respite in the form of full-day and residential weekend breaks.
Typically community based, these weekends are designed to build levels of independence and greater social engagement and have included physical activities such as canoeing, karting and archery. Small groups have also participated in activities such as visiting the donkey farm, interacting with birds of prey and creating unique masterpieces at the blacksmith’s forge.