Respite for Carers – Interview with Carer Sue Searle

Sue SearlSue Searle talks about caring for her mother and how she’s been able to find support through Islington Carers Hub and how she’s recently been able to take a short break from caring through Carefree

How long have you been a carer for your mum?
I have been caring for my 97-year-old mum for nearly 5 years now. I used to run a guest house in Dorset, but I returned to London when it became clear that she needed one-to-one care.

What is it like being a carer for your mum?
Caring is a full-time job and this was particularly true during the lockdowns. It can be very intensive and at times stressful, but I enjoy doing it. I think of caring as my job. There was a lot to learn at the start, including patience and empathy. I had not been responsible for anyone previously, so it also meant getting used to being with someone 24/7 and working out how I could best support mum. She is not great on her ‘pins’ and as time progresses, she cannot do the things that she used to do, and I feel her frustration. My mother was very lively and independent up until her late ’80s and used to go to the ballet and opera regularly, as well as travelling extensively. Her loss of independence is very difficult for her, even at the age of 97 years old.

What was life like during the lockdowns?
I have to admit, mum and I quite enjoyed it. We knew what we were doing every day and we did more cooking, listened to music and took more notice of nature, especially from our window. We bought lots of plants and had our own indoor garden – it was fab!

Previously, we had had two carers but as soon as the pandemic started, we made the decision not to have any carers come in as we felt the risk was too great. As a result, I really had to step up to the mark with mum’s care. I approached it as I have approached every job I have had, go with what works and disregard anything that doesn’t. Mum’s care has been tweaked and refined. I am still learning but that is the same with anything we do in life, isn’t it?

I think the most stressful thing about the lockdowns was going out shopping for food, because the thought of bringing something back into the flat and giving it to mum filled me with absolute fear and dread. I know I was not alone in fearing for the safety of the person I was caring for, especially when the news of what was happening in care homes hit the headlines.

What is involved in caring for your mum?
The day starts with helping her to get up, washed and dressed, then to have breakfast, provide stimulation and entertainment, and then lunch. Mum attended Sotheby Day Centre before the pandemic struck and, now that lockdown has lifted, I try to get mum to the centre twice a week. When we are at home and she has a sleep in the afternoon, I pop out to do food shopping. She has a high risk of falls but has a Telecare button which is very reassuring. However, I do not venture too far as I am forever aware of the risk of leaving her alone.

How does mum spend her time?
When mum feels strong enough to go out, she loves going to London Zoo, Regent’s Park or, more locally, to Highbury Fields and Clissold Park. She has a wheelchair that she calls the ‘pram’ and loves being pushed in it! During the lockdowns, we did quite a lot of Zoom sessions with North London Cares – they were a godsend – and we are very grateful for what they do to help those who are alone. I sometimes attend the Carers Support Group meetings with Islington Carers Hub and love the Age UK Art Appreciation sessions especially.

It is amazing how mum accepts new technology without question. Although, I have over the years introduced her to just about every new invention – CD players, mobile phones, iPads, Amazon Alexa Show. She used to use a manual typewriter, but now has an iPad and a smartphone. Unfortunately, her dexterity is not what it was, so she can no longer send texts. However, she absolutely loves video calls with friends and family.

She used to read lots of books, but her concentration now wanes quite quickly. However, she can spend many hours in the company of Ronnie O’Sullivan playing snooker and John Wayne in his many movies. She is also a huge fan of ‘Morse’, ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘Poirot’.

What about finding time for yourself?
It is difficult as a carer to find time for yourself. If I can get mum to bed at a reasonable time, I go out for a couple of hours to meet friends locally. I also go out for a short time in the afternoon to do shopping and have a walk. With the introduction of the ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhood’ scheme, it means a 20-minute car journey to Archway, for example, now takes 40+ minutes. This restriction gives me very little opportunity to get out during the short time that I have available. There are places to shop locally, such as Tesco Express and the Co-Op, but their convenience means they are far more expensive than going to the bigger stores some distance from home.

What does the Carers Support Group mean to you?
The Carers Support Group means that you do not feel you are the only person caring for someone. You can talk to other carers and find like-minded people who are coping with similar situations to yourself. Before I attended my first event, I have to admit, I thought it would be a forum for people who wanted to complain about their role. But I could not have been more wrong; people do not tend to moan. Everyone chats and talks about concerns, such as Carer’s Parking Permits or anything that relates to being a carer. If you are stressed or worried about something, you can share how you are feeling. The activity sessions, such as Painting Appreciation, Yoga and Meditation, are also very helpful in that they give you a break from caring. Even if it is just for an hour, that is incredibly beneficial as that activity allows you to focus on something else. It is very therapeutic.

How did you find out about Carefree breaks?
Carefree came to my notice when I was sent an email from them after a referral by Islington Carers Hub. I was very sceptical to start off with as we all receive a lot of scam emails, don’t we? Having been in hospitality, I know what it costs to provide accommodation, therefore, the thought that hotels, guest houses and B&Bs were offering free accommodation to carers, especially after a year of constant lockdowns, was truly amazing.

I am quite tech savvy and I found it quite easy to register online. However, I understand that their Customer Support can also assist with registration, etc., via telephone as they recognise that not everyone has access to the internet.

Without the generosity of this charity’s contributors, this respite is not something I would have been able to afford.

How did your break go?
I had a fab time! I took my best mate (a companion can join you as long as they are not the person you care for), and we enjoyed two lovely nights at the Noel Arms Hotel in Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds. The weather was glorious; the staff were friendly and very helpful; and the room was super. I returned with batteries recharged and very grateful to Carefree and the Noel Arms Hotel for the opportunity to ‘get away from it all’.

Carers Rights Day Talk on ‘Carefree Break for Carers
Sue will share more about how she got on with her break via Carefree as part of our talks on Carers Rights Day, Thursday, 25 November 2021. Carefree will be there as well. We’ll share more details about Carers Rights Day shortly!