Flexible Short Breaks
A story by Kincardine & Deeside Befriending
Kincardine & Deeside Befriending has been operating a befriending scheme for older people in a rural part of South West Aberdeenshire since 1997.
With money from the Short Breaks Fund we provided a befriending service to 26 carers of older people, which enabled them to take regular short respite breaks while their loved ones enjoyed the companionship of their volunteer befriender.
What Flexible Short Breaks did
18 existing carers and 8 new ones (who came from our waiting list) benefited from 1492 hours of befriending. They had either referred themselves to our service or were referred by health, social work or carer support professionals.
The majority (18) of carers have not accessed respite breaks before, and those who did were much in need of additional support. This was particularly the case for those caring for a person with dementia. Carers were mostly spouses or sons and daughters, and some cared for more than one person. Most carers were older people themselves. Care recipients were usually over the age of 80 and suffered from frailty and long term health conditions - ten were diagnosed with dementia.
Care recipients were regularly visited by a volunteer befriender who provided company in their own home or/and took them out. Most visits lasted between two and two and a half hours. Carers used this time to get out of the house, to catch up with family or friends, doing their message and shopping, going to the hairdresser, GP etc.. Some used the time to go for a walk or to catch up with house work, finance, or to pursue a personal interest or hobby.
Funding for a third consecutive year allowed us not only to continue our much needed service but enabled us to investigate the needs of carers for flexible and emergency respite care and to check if and how a befriender would be able to help. 19 volunteers were able to offer a degree of flexibility and carers were delighted about being able to change the time or day of the service.
Feedback from carers, cared for and referrers has been exceptional and we are pleased that carers and their loved ones benefited significantly from our befriending service.
As Maria does not like to leave Andrew on his own she looked forward to John (befriender) coming around every fortnight. They got to know each other well and developed a trusting relationship. While John spent time with Andrew, Maria took the bus to do their messages and shopping in Stonehaven, the nearest market town 12 miles away, or went to the hairdresser in the village.
Maria reported that befriending has, in addition to the above, helped both of them to feel less isolated because they had hardly have any visitors coming to the house. Most of their friends have died, Andrew's children live down in England and Maria never married and has no children.
They arrived back home at 6 PM. Her mother was very demanding, and did not like being on her own. Margo constantly followed Susan around and needed to speak to her, mainly about the 'same old things'. After the usual cooking, house work and getting her mother into bed, there was never time left for Susan to socialise or to pursue a hobby. As Susan was just feeling so exhausted at the end of every day, the care manager had offered her a week respite.
Unfortunately her mum hated the care home, becoming very aggressive and attacking staff and even Susan. After that Susan would only allow her mum to go into respite when it was unavoidable, e.g. when she was ill herself or when she needed to go away for work reasons. Susan said " I have thought a few times of giving up my job because I am thoroughly committed to my mum but I have to earn a living."
When Susan heard about the befriending scheme she though that she had nothing to lose and gave it a try. Luckily her mum responded well to the befriender and they agreed fortnightly visits. Every other Tuesday after Margo and Susan have had their dinner, the befriender arrived and provided much welcomed companionship for Margo while Susan got on with some house work or popped into her flat. Margo loved talking to the befriender and getting her attention; she mentioned to Susan that it made her feel special.
Susan too reported that she liked the befriender coming round, not only because it gave her a much needed break from her mother, but also because the befriender brought a new dimension into her relationship with her mum. It gave them something new to talk about and a break from their usual routine.
Sometimes, when her mother went to bed early, Susan herself enjoyed a chat with the befriender. She reported that she usually did not get a chance to socialise after work or on weekends when she had mum all day. Therefore she appreciated and enjoyed talking to the befriender. They found out that they had a lot in common and developed a friendship. This gave Susan also an opportunity to share or discuss some of her worries.
Knowing that the befriender could be flexible, Susan eventually asked the befriender to go out with her and her mum occasionally on weekends. Susan reported that she found it so much more relaxing and enjoyable going out with the befriender and her mum, compared to going out with her mum on her own.
Susan said that befriending has definitely helped her to sustain her caring role; it made her feel a bit more normal and certainly gave her something to look forward to every fortnight. That the befriender was also available on weekends enabled her to have a less stressful time with her mum and more enjoyable weekends. The fact the the befriender became a good friend was a big bonus.
Their care manager said “This (the befriending service) has been invaluable to Margo’s daughter who is her main carer and supports her at home, it is very welcomed and appreciated support. The support has enabled Margo to remain within her own home as this has provided further support within her care package (the day care)”
Rod said that looking after his mum and doing all the housework is an even more laborious task than for most people because he is almost blind. He often feels exhausted and looks forward to taking out his guide dog every afternoon. He loves getting out of the house, not only because his guide dog needs a daily walk, but also because it gives him a chance to ‘clear his head’. He is usually back within the hour because he does not like to leave his mother, now she is bed ridden, too long by herself.
However, he treasurers the extra hour he gets when his mother’s befriender is visiting. ‘It gives me time to go for a longer walk and talk to the other dog walkers from the village without feeling guilty. I’ll catch up on the gossip and can tell mum about it.” Rod reported that his mother having a new (be)friend is a great relief for him. All her friends have died and the only neighbour who used to come round to see her has moved away. He can’t be everything for his mother and knows how much she craved female company.
What Kincardine & Deeside Befriending has learnedWe had a long list of older people with carers waiting for our service . Most were referred to us by care managers and health professionals.The Short Breaks funding has allowed us to provide more carers with short respite breaks, many of whom had never accessed respite breaks before.
It also enabled us to learn a lot more about the needs of carers and how a more flexible befriending service can help carers feel better supported in their caring role. We were surprised at the number of volunteers able and willing to be flexible or help out in an emergency if necessary, and the number of carers wanting not to miss out on their short break.
We had assumed that those who already accessed respite breaks were less in need than those without respite breaks. We found that in most cases, in particular where the cared for had been diagnosed with dementia, there is just not enough respite in place for most carers.
The service we offered was very personalised. We asked carers and the care recipients about their needs and agreed on how befriending could help addressing those needs. We monitored how well we achieved those needs and regular review meetings enabled us to address changing needs.