One in eight adults in the UK has a caring role, with about 6,000 people taking on caring responsibilities each day. Churches can offer practical support for carers, but don’t always know where to start. While the support that carers value will differ from person to person, a good guiding principle is: always ask the carer what would help them. Jacqui Goff cares for her husband Steve, who is living with dementia. We hear from Jacqui what support she values from her church, and what other carers may find helpful too.
1. Ask how you can help.
If a carer can’t come up with anything at the time, don’t stop asking. In fact, sometimes I don’t know what we want, or what will help.
2. Keep in touch.
A text, an email and even cards in the post mean so much.
3. Encourage us.
Even if we’re not seen at a service, we are still very much part of the church family. It really helps to be supported by kind words, prayers and thoughts.
4. Give us space. Be mindful when we DO attend church.
Space is always helpful so please don’t crowd, queue up to talk. Please don’t be offended if we arrive to church late or have to leave straight away.
5. Plan your visit.
Life needs careful planning and spontaneous visits may not always be welcome. If the carer says don’t visit, please don’t visit. Similarly, if asked not to use the house phone, then please don’t.
6. Plans can change quickly.
Dementia friendly services are great, but we may not always be able to make them. Things change on a minute by minute basis and we might say we’re coming, then not turn up.
7. One size doesn’t fit all.
There are many different types of dementia and not all can enjoy/appreciate what is provided in a service.
8. Celebrate with us.
Some weeks it’s a challenge just to get to church, please don’t remind us that we haven’t been for a long time. We may feel upset or guilty.
9. Understand that we do care about the struggles and issues of others.
I might not have the capacity to listen to them at the time I attend church. I may not be able to empathise or give affirmation as my focus will be elsewhere. Another time might be better to look at your holiday snaps and photos of grandchildren – in this way I will have capacity to really engage with you.
10. Be aware of other carers’ needs.
Don’t forget there may be other carers in the church not looking after someone with dementia. Any new initiative might highlight their own needs not being met.
Jacqui Goff cares for her husband Steve, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia when he was in his late 50s. Since then they have continued to enjoy life to the full, whilst adjusting over time to Steve’s gradually deteriorating condition. Whilst Jacqui continued working for as long as possible, she now looks after Steve at home. Their Christian faith, and the support of their church, their friends continue to see them through.