Free & low-cost help for carers does exist, but you have to sometimes go looking for it. There are millions of carers across England, often many of them older people or children. It can be a very stressful and tiring job, especially if you are looking after someone who you can’t leave for long, due to fear of them falling or wandering off etc.
Also ensure both patient and carer are getting the benefits. The media often talks of ‘benefit cheats’ but in truth, most of the billions unclaimed is from vulnerable people who are unaware of their rights. Visit Turn 2 Us to perform an online benefits check, and make sure you claim backdated money (often 3 months). Grandparents Plus offers help for ‘kinship carers’. Also see how to find free & low-cost help for carers.
- Helping Hands at Home is a care agency that offers visiting care nationwide. Their carers can safely move things around the home, and offer personal care, household chores, run errands and care for pets.
- Cinnamon Trust and PAPAS also have dog walking volunteers that can also care for other pets, take pets to the vets and often foster or volunteer pets, if you or someone you love goes into hospital). The former also lists pet-friendly nursing homes, and can arrange adoption, if the patient dies.
- Feeling isolated? Have a friendly chat on the phone with volunteers at Befrienders or The Silver Line. The latter can also link you up in a conference call, so lots of carers in the same area or with the same situations can chat to each other.
Books to Help Make Life Easier for Carers
- The Caregiver’s Companion is a book by the founders of Nourish for Caregivers, a Christ-centred parish-based support group, for those juggling the demands of caring for loved ones. Just a few moments each day with the encouraging readings can help you discover soul-nourishing respite. Draw strength from your faith and experience the blessings of each present moment. The site has a useful checklist to make your home safe for patients.
- Fall Prevention is a book to help make homes accessible and safe. Written by 2 physical therapists, this large-format illustrated book includes tips on eliminating fall hazards with simple home modifications. It’s companion book Fall Prevention: Stay On Your Own Two Feet has tips.
- The Carer Handbook has tips for carers on how to cope practically and emotionally, whether that involves shopping for a neighbour, or giving up to work to care full-time for a disabled child or a confused parent. Includes self-care tips.
- Earth Wise Girls sell washable bamboo pads that are more comfortable than plastic. Natracare sells organic disposable incontinence pads,
- Uribag (free on the NHS) is ideal for disabled people, especially if travelling in the car. Just pee into the Latex ‘film canister’, empty it out, then wash at home.
How to Help Someone with Dementia
Dementia is a range of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s, where the brain gradually loses functions. At present the condition is incurable, however there is more chance of finding a cure by donating to kinder humane research which uses modern methods, rather than cruel and outdated animal research. If you care for someone with dementia, it can be exhausting.
A nice idea is a personalised memory box. Handmade in Berkshire from recycled wood (the above is covered in linen). Fill it with cards, photographs and small gifts and memories for anyone you love with dementia. The colours pair modern and classic elegant, and includes a personalised name on the top, and a ‘life and times of’ icon.
Hydration is often an issue for dementia patients, often because they get confused by clear glasses, and sometimes patients develop a phobia of water and running taps. Use a bright cup (see below). And consider making infused water (with fruits or herbs) to encourage patients to drink. Or try this simple 3-ingredient ginger lemon water, colourful enough to attract interest.
Dignity Assistive Tableware was designed alongside dementia experts at Stirling University. It’s made from vitrified earthenware for extra strength, many items are in bright colours to encourage eating and drinking. You can also buy brightly-coloured tableware for dementia patients from EatWell (the 20 unique features include curved spoons for easy handling, slanted bottoms and deep chambers for easy scooping, and an anti-tipping design to prevent spills). There is also a tray that you can clip an apron to, to help prevent dropped food and clothing stains.
A memory book is a nice idea. Just fill it with favourite photos and stories, so your loved one can look at it any time to remember fond days. Music Memory Box is a simple kit that you can fill with meaningful objects, music and photographs. Together these can help to unlock and recall memories. It’s like a personal jukebox and you can add more music with a USB stick. You can also create a physical photo collage of different times in the box, from childhood to the present day. Say you include a wedding photo and the song played on their wedding day, or the song they would sing to you, as a child. It’s simple to use with a tactile surface, so people in later stages of dementia are able to use it unassisted and choose when to use it.
Music is often one of the last things that dementia patients remember. Often when they have forgotten everything else, a tune reminds them of the past. If you have unwanted iPods, you can donate them to Music and Memory, and these are passed on to help give the gift of music to patients with dementia.
Chiltern Music Therapy has also developed the first iPod Pharmacy. This initiative takes unwanted MP3 players, and cleans them up, before loading with tailored music to help stimulate, soothe & engage patients. This enables to take someone’s mind off their treatment, pain or environment, allowing themselves to get lost in favourite music.
The Forgettery is a lovely book that subtle explains to children why their grandparents may be forgetting things ‘little things, like where she put her glasses. And big things, like people and places’. Filled with warmth and gentle humour, this looks at a wondrous space to store precious memories.
How to Help Someone with Parkinson’s
Parkinson’s disease is caused by lack of dopamine in the brain (80% of dopamine has gone, by the time symptoms appear). Many people automatically think of ‘shaking hands’, but this is not the only symptom, the main risk is usually falling – other symptoms include unclear speech, drooling, a shuffling gait (not moving the arms), and a ‘mask-like’ expression. This can make it very lonely for patients as they are often mistaken for not being interested in people’s conversations, because their faces do not show emotion, and they often have a very low voice, which is difficult to hear. Choking is another risk, so don’t give carrot sticks, veggie hot dogs, chia seeds or nuts etc to patients with PD.
- Exercises for Parkinson’s Disease is a great book by an American acting teacher, who combined his knowledge with simple yoga and tai chi knowledge, to create a unique workout for local patients. This helps people to ‘learn how to move and learn how to speak’ again using voice coaching and other gentle workouts. After the locals said they wished they could clone him, he wrote this book instead!
- Voice Aerobics DVD (you can watch online) is a one-hour program created by a speech therapist to help restore vocal movement for PD patients. One good tip from her regards drooling which can affect the dignity of patients who often have soaking handkerchiefs. She suggests using tennis sweat bands on the wrists, as these easily absorb any drool, then just throw them in the wash.
- Bob’s Flunkey is a homemade invention that a patient created to get dressed, if you can’t arms above shoulder height. It involves tying string to a bulldog clip, and fastening it to the door.
As mentioned above, falling is a big hazard (you may wish to invest in some hip protectors to wear under clothes, to help prevent broken bones, in the case of a fall). When PD patients walk down a slight ramp, their brain sees it as a steep hill, so everything goes out of balance, causing falls. They often freeze and have a shuffling gait (the arms stop moving, which we automatically use as balance).
These inventions stem from an experiment that found when you place an ‘obstacle’ on the floor (like sheets of typing paper), often patients improve their walking. So these create ‘obstacles’ to step over.
- U-Step is safer than a zimmer frame (which can often roll away with the user, when they get up). This has brakes to keep it steady, and is specifically designed to be used for people with neurological issues. It is very expensive, so ask your GP if they can provide one on the NHS.
- If no joy, the same company offers LaserCane which uses a red laser light (the obstacle) for patients to ‘step over’ to stop them freezing. Walk with Path (above, lasers that attach to your shoes) and Walk to Beat (a walking stick, with a vibrating beat) work in a similar manner.
- GyroGlove was invented by a medical student, after seeing a PD patient struggling to eat a bowl of soup. Users say that it’s like ‘sticking your hand in thick syrup’. Gyenno Spoon and Liftware Crockery are similar, also designed to reduce hand tremors.
- Kangaroo Cup and Handsteady Mug are anti-spill cups. The first was designed by the granddaughter of a patient, the second created after 4 years of talking to over 100 health professionals.
- EatWell is a range of assistive tableware that was designed for dementia patients, but also good for Parkinson’s. In bright colours, the 20 unique features include curved spoons for easy handling, slanted bottoms and deep chambers for easy scooping, and an anti-tipping design to prevent spills). There is also a tray that you can clip an apron to, to help prevent dropped food and clothing stains.
- UriBag (free on the NHS, just ask your GP) is designed to be used for patients with weak bladder, a common PD symptom. The male version looks like a film canister. Made of latex, it opens up into a portable urinal bag. Just use it on the move, pour the urine down a drain if in the car, then wash when you get home. There is also a female version, that is mostly designed for bedridden patients.
How to Help Stroke Recovery Patients
Strokes are like a ‘heart attack in the brain’ and range from mild to serious. Often the reasons are unknown, but they can be caused by the same reasons as heart disease (plaque, clogged arteries etc).
Choking is a risk, so don’t give carrot sticks, veggie hot dogs, chia seeds or nuts etc to patients with PD. Most patients who have had a stroke need rehabilitation work for some time.
- NeuroBall offers hundreds of physio reps with 8 fun games, rather than boring post-stroke training. Research conducted by Brunel University London showed that this invention improved wrist and shoulder movement for stroke survivors.
- LaserFinger attaches to your glasses or hat, to turn appliances on and off (with a slight head movement).
- Kickstart is a wearable walking device to help restore and relearn natural reflexive walking. It keeps the hip and leg stable, while using power to gently lift and move the leg through a safe, guided and proper step. Lightweight and easy to use, it’s also used for patients with MS.
- Bob’s Flunkey is a homemade invention that a patient created to get dressed, if you can’t arms above shoulder height. It involves tying string to a bulldog clip, and fastening it to the door.
- Voice Aerobics DVD (you can watch online) is a one-hour program created by a speech therapist to help restore vocal movement for PD patients, but also could be used to help recover speech.
Making Life Easier for Mobility Issues
Hundreds of disabled people have committed suicide due to benefit cuts, when the government says it had healthy funds after 10 years of austerity. A 2019 report showed almost 50% of people moved from Disability Living Allowance to PIP (Personal Independence Payments) lost out financially.
The NHS supplies free wheelchairs. But to upgrade to something more comfortable, ask about the NHS Personal Wheelchair Budget, which can help buy a private wheelchair of your choice. Which? has a good post on how to choose the best one, depending on circumstances.
One of the best-rated lightweight wheelchairs is Patterson Medical Days Escape Lite. It’s easy to transport and store, has height-adjustable footrests that detach, durable padded armrests, and adjustable seat belt.
- StairSteady was invented by a 16-year old for her GSCE project! It offers a simpler affordable alternative to stairlifts, which can cost thousands of pounds. Fitted by their engineers, this is a handle to ‘lever’ yourself up the staircase. Fold it away, then use it to come down the stairs later.
- UriBag is free on the NHS. For men or women, this latex bag looks like a film canister. Tip the pee down a drain, then fold up to take home and wash. Ideal if you can’t find a toilet in time (also get your Radar key to access public bathrooms).
- Blue Badges give free parking in disabled bays (some shops and councils still charge, so check beforehand). There is a government ‘grace period’ period of around 10 minutes if you are getting an elderly person (or dog) back to the car. You can challenge a fine. Keep disable badges at home, as some people steal them, to get free parking.
- Simply Emma is a travel blog by a young women, who offers tips galore, accommodation reviews and info on music festivals. Also visit Wheels Galore, where a man who is not defined by his disability lives a full life, and writes uplifting books.
Disabled Living Foundation says that around 1 in 20 children across the UK are disabled (the cost of raising a disabled child is a third more). Often due to care responsibilities, parents of disabled children earn 25% less than average. Many children with physical disabilities have learning problems, doubling the stress.
- Your local council has a duty to provide home care, adaptations, hospital visits, holiday play schemes and short break services. Some services are free, but all must be offered under Children Act 1989.
- Family Fund can offer grants to families with disabled children. Example items funded includes washing machines, bedding, furniture, outdoor play equipment, clothing, sensory toys and family breaks.
- Hero Arm is a bionic arm using space-age technology for amputees age 8 and over. Ambionics is another invention, created by the father of a child (who had his arm amputated at 10 days old, due to a blood clot). After giving up his career as a psychology professor, the father could not get funding from government, yet this product could change the lives of thousands of children worldwide.
Making Life Easier for Blind People
There are over 2 million people registered blind (including children) in the UK. Sight loss is often something that someone is born with, but it can also be caused by an accident, disease, cancer or cataracts (sight can also suffer with age-related macular degeneration).
One of the oddest laws in England is the use of TV by blind people. Get this: blind people have to pay for one (even though they can’t see). And they get a discount if they have a black-and-white TV? People can apply to get a 50% discount (no discount if you’re partially sighted). So you can have a millionaire over the age of 80 who lives in a mansion and pays nothing – yet a blind pensioner on a council estate who has the TV on for company, who has to pay? Mad world.
- Be My Eyes is a free app with hundreds of thousands of worldwide volunteers. Invented by a Danish craftsman (who is visually impaired himself), just look up someone for free help to read instructions, read recipes, distinguish colours etc. This is one rare area where there are too many volunteers!
- Ask your GP for a Certificate of Vision Impairment. This entitled you to a bus pass and Blind Person’s Allowance.
- If you use computers, Moon & Elia Frames are easier to learn than Braille. NV Access is a screen reader, created by and for blind people. Access to Work offers grants for Braille keyboards etc.
- If you like sending letters, Articles for the Blind sends all post for free from Royal Mail.
- Get free directory enquiries (& priority repair).
- Most libraries offer large-print & audio books on free loan. And British Wireless for the Blind Fund sells digital radios, on free loan to people on low incomes.
- Some local councils offer free Radar keys (to access public disabled toilets nationwide). Even if they don’t it’s only a fiver, and worth the cost.
- Blind Veterans offers free help and support
- Remap is an army of volunteer ‘tinkerers’ (one invented a headset to let a blind boy ‘watch’ football). Another made a set of guide rails for a blind bowling team (to stop them wandering into the wrong lane).
- Listening Books & Calibre Audio offer affordable book subscriptions. Choose from hundreds of titles to download or have sent in the post (free post).
- Seeing Ear is a charity that offers books in giant print, Braille or synthetic speech, to anyone with visual problems.
- Clearvision is a postal lending library that works in a similar way, for blind children.
- Blue Badges give free parking (obviously a designated driver) in disabled bays (some shops & councils still charge). There is a government ‘grace period’ period of around 10 minutes (you can challenge this for any reason you are delayed). Keep badges at home, as some people steal them from cars, to get free parking spaces. spaces.
- WeWALK is a ‘white cane’ to detect obstacles & approaching buses. Smart Stick was invented by a 9-year old!
- Trimet (Portland) has the world’s best public transit system. It has a fantastic set-up for blind people, which we could emulate here. Most public transport is free, all signs have Braille alternatives, and a local army of volunteers ride with blind (and disabled) passengers, until they feel comfortable.
- TravelEyes is a wonderful unique idea. It pairs blind people who would like to go on holiday, with sighted travellers who are happy to be a ‘guide’, in return for a big discount. So the blind person gets to enjoy a wonderful holiday with a companion. And someone else gets to make new friends, and enjoy visits to places they could otherwise not afford to go. Blind and able-sighted people are paired differently each day, so the whole group gets to know each other. Rooms are shared. So as an example, you may read the menu out to your companion, which just makes their holiday all the more enjoyable, not having to ‘bother’ with all the regular stuff that blind people may find tedious, like having to find someone to read it out to them. The blind travellers are not charged more than normal. And ‘guides’ get up to 50% discount, including relatives and friends who come along. Founder Amar Latif is lost 95% of his sight by age 18. Passionate about travel, he wanted to find a way that others could travel too, after he was rejected as a solo blind traveller by many tourism companies.
How to Help Our Veterans
How to help our veterans is not about some political glorification of war. It’s about protecting the most vulnerable in society, who often are left on the scrap heap after they have spent their lives in service. While big business gets away with not paying their taxes, often it’s the most vulnerable that suffer.
- Next Door is like a local Facebook. Just download the free software, then set a boundary and use it to post anything: lost pets, job vacancies, sharing tools etc.
- Re-Engage offers volunteer drivers who take lonely old people to Sunday lunch, hosted by a volunteer with a few other people in the community too (they can then make friends and meet up until the next monthly lunch). With present social distancing, many volunteers are offering support by phone.
- The Veterans Welfare Service is run by the government, and offers help and advice. You can get support via home or phone, they can help with transition to civilian life, bereavement, disability issues and any life event that needs welfare assistance.
- Combat Stress is a charity that offers mental health support to veterans. They can help men and women dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression and offer specialist treatment and support for veterans.
- Veterans Gateways offers help for veterans. They can put them in touch with organisations that offer help with healthcare, housing, finances and personal relationships, as well as employment training and opportunities.
- Big White Wall is an online anonymous community run by over 150 organisations with trained professionals to offer support for anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress. Also visit:
- Soldiers Off the Street
- Support for Homeless Veterans
- Help 4 Homeless Veterans