Daphne Berkovi, an active supporter of the Campaign, discusses her personal experience of loneliness and isolation after becoming a carer, and what helped her overcome it.
“Britain’s army of unpaid carers struggle to cope without support” (the I 08/05/12)
“Loneliness: the tragically silent killer which is so easy to combat” (the I – 15/03/2012)
These two recent newspaper articles resonate so profoundly with me. They epitomise the distressing situation I was placed in 2 years ago, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. Less than a year later after the cancer diagnosis my husband then suffered renal failure, and is now a dialysis patient.
Nothing could have tested my mettle more than being placed in the role of sole carer. Suddenly, everything that we had been doing in unison and individually had come to an abrupt end; we were in shock. Dramatically, the shift from a position of being strong, fit and independent people was swiftly replaced by the roles of carer and being cared for.
Normal everyday life was replaced by the challenges of physically exhausting journeys to and from hospital every week, coupled with a ‘roller coaster’ of excruciating emotional and physical pain. My days were filled with feelings of utter isolation and loneliness. At times it was frightening, yet I had to remain resolute to ensure that I did everything possible to support my husband, emotionally, physically and practically.
Two years hence my husband’s condition has stabilised. Life is planned around dialysis. Despite all the complexities of this new life together, I have found strategies that have helped me. Firstly, it has been vital to try and regenerate some of the social life we had lost. Seeking out links with people who are caring has proved crucially important. Social contact has proved imperative.
So, last year, I joined the University of the Third Age, an Age UK weekly walking group and a reading group. Equally supporting Carers UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness has made me feel that I am doing something really worthwhile with my life.
Being a carer has been the most challenging and stressful role I have ever taken on in my life. It has not been an easy journey, and one encounters continual demands. Nevertheless adopting objectives to cope has proved a necessary ingredient to manage daily life.
As Daphne’s story illustrates, becoming a carer often triggers isolation and increases our risk of experiencing chronic loneliness.
A recent survey conducted for Carers Week found 2 in 5 carers delay their own medical treatment to care for a loved one. 87% of respondents also said caring for a family member or friend has had a negative impact on their mental health.
Social support for carers is therefore vital. We know that loneliness has a detrimental impact on our physical and mental health, and caring duties can only exacerbate this.
All local authorities – with their responsibility and involvement in health, public health and social care – should be acting to help older people stay connected and supported by their community. Recognising that carers are in particular need of this support can ensure any services are as efficient and effective as possible.
For more information and support for carers experiencing loneliness or isolation, see:
Carers Trust: ‘Top tips to tackling loneliness and isolation’
Carers Week: ‘Emotional and practical support’