Are you a carer, or perhaps getting to the stage where you need to look after a loved one?

Despite being a difficult transition, it’s often an essential undertaking.

Carers help millions of people around the UK enjoy a good quality of life, pouring their energy into the role.

In this guide, we’ll explain what it means to be a carer, the common responsibilities of the job and what assistance you can access when needed.

So let’s dive in.

What is a carer?

A carer is a person who helps someone suffering from illness or disability with their activities of daily living.

This could be anything, from support with shopping, to help with washing and dressing.

People sometimes confuse carers with care workers, who are trained professionals representing care organisations.

In contrast, carers aren’t officially employed and the role is unpaid, albeit with an entitlement to benefits if certain criteria are met.

Sometimes friends and family cover all caring needs and in other instances, this assistance is complemented by professional homecare agencies or day clubs.

Who is a typical carer?

Anyone can be a carer and you might not even know it when you meet one.

Carers are often friends or family members who provide support to a loved one behind the scenes, helping them get by from day-to-day.

In this way, they’re often unsung heroes.

The input needed might be minimal at first, but in the case of chronic or deteriorating health conditions, carers may spend increasing time providing support.

Who do carers look after?

Carers can help anyone who is vulnerable, struggling to support themselves, or having problems undertaking their normal activities.

Let’s take a look:

Elderly parents

In addition to age-related mobility problems, as our parents get older, other health conditions may start to appear, requiring more trips to the GP and additional support.

Disabled individuals

People with disabilities may find it difficult to manage their activities of daily living without support. This could range from parents caring for their children to family members running errands for older adults.

People who’ve experienced accidents

Accidents often cause tremendous disruption to lives we once took for granted. Those who have suffered acquired brain injuries or paralysis, for example, may need significant input from those around them.

Those with serious illnesses

We all hope to stay fit and healthy for as long as possible, but when illness does strike, having a support network on hand is vital to maintain a good quality of life while receiving treatment.

Individuals with chronic health conditions

Long-term health issues such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s can change our lives completely. What were once easy activities suddenly become complicated operations and often require the help of friends and family.

Those with mental health issues

Mental health is frequently a silent affliction that might only be noticeable to our closest relatives. Nevertheless, conditions such as anxiety and depression can be hugely disabling and require close support.

Addiction sufferers

Like many other health conditions, addiction combines physical and psychological symptoms, placing a great strain on the sufferer and those closest to them in caring roles.

As you can see, from the diversity of individuals needing support, every type of caring role may also be different.

Whether that’s a young adult caring for ageing parents, a spouse looking after their husband with cancer or a child supporting a mother with addiction, every case is unique.

What do carers do?

Just like care recipients, who each have individual needs, so too there’s no standard job description for a carer.

Let’s take a look at some of the common responsibilities:


All of us need company. Social isolation and loneliness is a growing problem around the world, especially in elderly populations. Therefore, simply spending time with our loved ones, especially in cases of bereavement, can be vital.


If a loved one is unwell or suffering from a medical condition, their mobility may have declined or they might be unable to drive. Helping a relative stay active in the community and maintaining their social connections is essential for wellbeing.

Shopping support

Going shopping and carrying bags can be extremely difficult if you’re unwell. In addition to helping someone with the physical aspect of getting groceries, a trip to the shops can prove a vital pick-me-up for someone experiencing a tough time.

Help around the house

Living in a clean, tidy environment has both a positive bearing on our mental health as well as minimising physical obstacles that could cause trips and falls. As the saying goes, “Outward order, inner calm”. Help with cleaning, laundry and gardening can have a positive impact.

Meal preparation

Good nutrition is essential at any time, but even more so when a person is unwell. Therefore, helping a loved one maintain a healthy diet and adequate fluid intake plays a significant part in preventing medical complications.

Accompaniment to appointments

With chronic illness or disability, there are likely to be numerous medical appointments to attend. If a friend or relative is unwell, retaining important information can be difficult. Therefore, having someone with them to ask any relevant questions can be a big help.

Help with mobility

Perhaps one of the first, and most limiting, symptoms experienced in many health conditions are mobility problems. This can make getting in and out of bed or to the toilet extremely difficult. Helping a loved one with these activities might require an assessment from a physiotherapist and potentially equipment from an occupational therapist.

Support with personal care

In more advanced stages of illness, it might be necessary to provide support with aspects of washing, toileting and dressing. Such help, although frequently provided by carers, might require the assistance of professional care workers, who can also cater for more complex needs.

What are the benefits of being a carer?

It’s safe to say that without the loving support of carers helping the most vulnerable people in our society, the system would struggle.

As humans, it’s natural for us to care, our nurturing instincts develop as children from the care we receive from our parents.

Such support is the bedrock of this social system and is vital in helping our loved ones face debilitating health challenges.

As such, looking after someone can be a rewarding role for a carer, both spiritually and psychologically.

Likewise, it can benefit the care recipient, who might be more comfortable with someone they know providing assistance.

Additionally, it means our loved ones may be able to stay in their own home and community for longer, instead of living in a residential care home.

Being a carer, notwithstanding its challenges, can even strengthen a relationship with a loved one, as obstacles are overcome together, forming tight bonds.

What are the challenges of the role?

Being a carer is a necessary role for many.

Depending on the situation, it can place a strain on those who might be expected to juggle numerous responsibilities on top of their day-to-day life.


Life can be very challenging for children who care for their parents, altering the usual familial dynamic. The children of elderly parents are often adults, with jobs and families of their own to juggle alongside their caring role.


This is relevant to both young carers and adults alike, who are seeking further education. Often the time that goes into a support role can take time away from further learning which could help prepare carers for the future workplace.


Many carers may have to pause their career plans while they look after a loved one and instead organise their work schedule around their caring responsibilities.


Caring is an emotional investment and because the role requires significant time and energy, other relationships may feel the strain. This is often why carers might seek to share the responsibilities among friends and family, if possible.


Caring is not a 9-5 role and the unpredictable nature of the job means that social events and special occasions may be missed. Such sacrifices might have to be made, especially with longer-term illness or disability.

Taking care of yourself

As you can see, while caring can be a hugely rewarding role, it doesn’t come without its challenges.

When a carer invests so much energy into another person, fatigue, stress and burnout can easily result.

Therefore, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential for general wellbeing.

Diet – The food we eat has a huge bearing on both our energy levels and psychological health. Consuming plenty of fruit, vegetables and hydrating throughout the day is vital.

Exercise – While looking after someone may provide plenty of movement, getting out for some simple exercise, like taking a walk, can provide a much-needed change of scenery.

Meditation – In addition to our physical health, we need to prioritise our psychological wellbeing, which is where techniques like meditation and mindfulness have proved so impactful for so many.

Socialising – Some carers may spend the majority of the day with the person they look after.  This can easily to lead to overload. Arranging a coffee catch up with friends can be a simple, but effective way to recharge.

Is there any help for carers?

Fortunately, there is help available for those that need it.

Respite care

Everyone needs a break from their responsibilities from time to time. Respite care is designed specifically for carers to allow them to rest and recover. This could be in the form of a day centre or organised holiday for your loved one.

Professional care workers

There comes a time when carers might benefit from extra help. This is often the case with chronic health conditions, which can deteriorate over time and require more support than one person can provide. Having professionals to provide specialised care is often the next step.

Financial assistance

Alongside the physical and emotional aspect of the job, carers take on many time-intensive responsibilities in their role and as such, are sometimes entitled to financial support.

How to get help

There are two assessments that are required before help can be arranged.

Firstly, the person you care for requires a needs assessment to judge how well they’re managing with everyday life.

This can be arranged through your local council and will normally involve a social worker asking questions about the level of support the care recipient requires from day-to-day.

This assessment will form the basis of any other services that are recommended by the council.

A financial assessment might also be performed, to see if the care recipient qualifies for an Attendance Allowance or Personal Independence Payment and how much they might need to contribute to the cost of added help or respite care.

Secondly, a Carer’s Assessment will be required. This will take into account the responsibilities of the carer and exactly how the role is impacting their life.

If certain criteria are met, a Carer’s Allowance can be awarded, which from April 2019, is £66.15 a week.

Following the assessments, the council can provide advice, recommendations or signpost to any other organisations which might help with additional support.

Charities and benevolent funds

If you’re not entitled to financial assistance, you may still be able to access help through a charity or grant.

Please see the following links for more information:

Other concessions

There are often concessions available to carers and the people they support, including discounted rates for attractions or leisure activities.

Check in your area to see if any such local schemes exist.

Although they often won’t be needed, it’s sensible to carry copies of assessment letters or documentation in case they’re requested.

Further information and support

As a carer, sometimes you just need to talk to someone, which can prove an essential form of therapy. Here are some helplines for carers:

Reach out

Carers play an integral part in the lives of countless people around the UK.

Their hard work often goes unseen, as they provide loving support to friends and family, keeping them happy and healthy in their own homes.

But carers must also look after themselves.

So if you need a break, explore the respite care options near you, or contact the organisations listed above for more information.