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New technology takes the weight off unpaid carers

01 December 2009

Carers Scotland will hold a major national conference, in partnership with the Scottish Government Joint Improvement Team at the Glasgow Science Centre on 1 December 2009. The Conference "A weight off my mind: telecare for carers" will present the findings of new research about the benefits to carers and those they care for and, to health and social services, of providing telecare equipment to unpaid carers to support them in their caring role. It will also showcase equipment, services and examples of best practice. Keynote speakers include Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing and Professor Sue Yeandle, University of Leeds.

 

Telecare covers a wide range of equipment from personal pendants to complex environmental controls such as bed sensors, property exit sensors and CO2 detectors. It aims to enable people to stay in their homes for longer, reduces the need for acute home care and delays admissions to residential home care. These issues are important because they offer better quality of life for people who use services and their carers as well as better value in the health and social care system.

Increasing the effective use of telecare also has the potential to improve the quality of life and wellbeing of unpaid carers as well as contributing to the future care of older and disabled people in our society. The research report to be launched at the conference "A weight off my mind: Exploring the impact and potential benefits of telecare for unpaid carers" commissioned by Carers Scotland and carried out by the University of Leeds Centre for International Research on Care, Labour and Equalities (CIRCLE) highlights a wide range of benefits to both unpaid carers and those they care for.

Carers are a third more likely to be in poor health and a large majority of carers admit to feeling ill, anxious or exhausted. Almost 1 in 4 carers said they frequently felt unable to cope with day to day caring due to the physical and emotional stresses of their caring role.

The research found that telecare offers clear benefits to carers' health and wellbeing, particularly providing carers with "peace of mind" about the safety and wellbeing of the person they care for. This reassurance helped carers feel better able to care. As one carer said: "It gives you peace of mind, and feeling fine, mentally is a great help when you're caring". Many carers reported feeling 'less stressed', 'less anxious' and 'less tired', citing these as the main differences telecare had made to their health and wellbeing. A few carers went further, identifying telecare as a 'life saver' which had come along at just the right time in their situation: "I was on the verge of a breakdown before we got this help."

Nearly three quarters of carers have not been able to take at least one week of "holiday" or "free" time when they did not have to care for someone.

Telecare also helped carers have more free time and take a break from caring. One carer explained: "It has allowed me to do more things at home, like crafts and reading a book. Before I would have to be constantly aware of my husband, it really invaded my own time." Others benefited from simply having an uninterrupted sleep and being able to relax more. As one carer pointed out: "When you have a vulnerable person to care for in your house, it feels like you're on duty 24/7. So, it was wonderful, it allowed me to relax, gave me chill out time. I wasn't on alert throughout the night."

One in five carers have to give up work to care, with a corresponding impact on their finances. Carers can cause significant poverty with nearly 80% of carers reporting that they struggle to pay utility bills and more than half reporting being in debt.

Telecare was also significant in helping unpaid carers stay in paid employment and maintain their family's financial stability. Carers emphasised feeling less tired, and reported that they no longer felt they were constantly 'on call' whilst at work. Telecare had enabled carers to remain in a job they might otherwise had had to give up. One explained: "...telecare has enabled me to maintain the hours that I work. It is difficult to get care workers who can cope with the level of care that my husband requires."

Telecare also had a beneficial impact on carers' relationship with the person they cared for. In one case, the person cared for - who had a debilitating progressive condition - was able to regain control over aspects of everyday life at home (for example changing the television channel, and turning the lights on/off). This restored some personal autonomy and independence with regard to tasks which previously the carer had needed to perform. This carer strongly believed that even small changes such as this had had a significant impact on the wellbeing of both parties. She said: "It's majorly improved. It's much less stressful ... it's on more of an even keel now. My husband feels much less disabled than he did and it relieves the pressure on us as a couple, it's been positive for our relationship. It's better. It's given him some independence back, because he doesn't have to rely on me as much."

Health Secretary, Nicola Sturgeon in welcoming the report said: "A Weight off My Mind" shows telecare can provide great benefits to both carer and the person being supported.

"Carers consistently highlight the need for a break from caring. Telecare can provide this and give carers peace of mind to enjoy breaks from caring.

"Telecare can also help people be cared for in their own homes, which is where people tell me they want to be, for as long as possible, and this is one of the main themes underpinning our work to reshape the care of older pople.

"The evidence is clear that investment in telecare can make it a key part of the network of support for carers and the cared for. I want to make our approach to telecare more organised, integrated and ambitious and I have asked officials to look at this."

Pat Begley, Director of Carers Scotland said: "One of the biggest challenges is fostering a society where "caring" is valued and supported. For many of Scotland's 660,000 unpaid carers their caring role can take a heavy toll on their physical and mental health, on their finances and on their opportunities to enjoy an ordinary life.

"While Telecare is not a panacea it does it does have the potential to provide practical, effective support to many carers. The evidence suggests that it can reduce the negative impacts of caring, enable carers to have time for themselves and in some instances remain in or return to employment, prevent accidents and unnecessary admissions to hospital, and enhance their relationships with those they care for.

"To maximize the benefits however, carers themselves and health, housing and social care staff need to be more aware of what telecare is and how to access it. We hope that the research and film will enable telecare services to be more widely available. We hope too that it will make a significant contribution to the case for continued investment in new technologies to support carers and those they care for; and encourage health and social care providers to embrace and explore the potential of new technologies in creating a society of caring citizenship."

"We therefore very much welcome the Scottish Government's continued support for the development of telecare in Scotland."

Carers Scotland's Conference "A weight off my mind: Telecare for carers" will take place:

• Date: 1 December 2009

• Time: 9.30am – 3.30pm

• Venue: Glasgow Science Centre

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