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Helping someone with everyday tasks in the home

Knowing how to do everyday tasks around the home may seem like it is just common sense. But many carers report that these tasks often become a lot more difficult when you have to do them for and with someone you care for. You often have to relearn how to do them completely.

Below are just a selection of the many and varied tasks that you may need to carry out regularly. We have included some further details about what each task may involve, what might be required from you, as well as some tips from other carers to make it as easy as possible.

One of the most fundamental ways that a carer can help their friend or relative is by ensuring they have plenty of nutritionally-balanced food and drink. This is particularly vital if they are unwell, as one of the best ways to fight illness, maintain their immune system and boost their energy levels is through ensuring they eat well and stay hydrated.

For most people, this means getting six to eight glasses of water and three balanced meals every day. Their meals should include a mix of:

  • At least five portions of fruit or vegetables.
  • Starchy carbohydrates like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta.
  • Dairy like milk, cheese or yogurt.
  • Proteins such as beans, fish, eggs or meat.

The NHS Eatwell Guide gives more advice about how to prepare balanced meals, as well as ideas for easy and healthy recipes you might like to try.

If your friend or family member has one of the many conditions that can require a more specialised diet, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoporosis or dementia, then your assistance with this element of their care can be even more vital to keeping them healthy. Talk to their medical team for further advice about any particular foods to be encouraged or avoided. In these cases, your caring role could also extend to helping them to learn which foods they should and shouldn’t eat and how to decipher a food label to see if it is suitable.

Even when trying to ensure their meals are balanced, healthy and in line with any specialised diet they might require, it is still important to try and involve the person you care for in choosing their food and drink as much as possible. Take time to find out what they like and don’t like and what their favourite meals are. Don’t necessarily rely on what you remember their preferences to be. Not only is it nice to be asked what you would like, but somebody’s tastes can also change over time or due to illness.

It is not just knowing what they should eat that can be complicated for carers, but also how it should be prepared. In some cases this is guided by the person you care for’s medical needs: if they have problems with chewing and swallowing, they may need meals that are easier to eat like purees, mashed food and long-cooked stews and soups. It can also make a big difference to the person you are caring for if you take into consideration how they like their food to be prepared. Something as simple as cutting their sandwich into halves when they have always cut them into triangles can be quite upsetting when you already feel like so much of your life is out of your control. Anything that makes them feel like their normal life is still there and that their preferences are respected can help hugely.

With so many things to consider, it can be very tempting to just step in and make meals yourself for the person you care for, especially when you are already very busy. But it is better, if possible, to support them to be able to accomplish tasks themselves as much as they can, by working together with them to prepare the meal safely. This not only keeps up their skills but can also help their self-esteem, and they may even enjoy it! Why not also cook for yourself at the same time and use meals as an chance to sit down and eat together, turning it into a nice opportunity to socialise too.

We understand though that it can be difficult to find the time in a busy day to ensure that this happens. Some tips that can help to make it more convenient include:

  • Planning the meals for the week ahead, and then buying the ingredients needed in advance. This can take the stress out of having to decide what to make every day.
  • Batch cooking, where together you prepare food for multiple meals in one go. You could make a big pot of soup, stew, chilli or curry, for instance, then divide it into smaller portions and freeze them. That way there is a meal that is ready to grab and reheat on particularly busy days.
  • Ordering shopping online, which can soon become much quicker and easier than going to the supermarket.

It is also important to not always rely on your friend or relative to say when they are thirsty or hungry. Particular conditions, including Alzheimer’s, stroke or old age, can diminish feelings of hunger or thirst. Also, if the person you care for worries about struggling when they need to use the toilet, prepare meals or wash up dishes, this can also lead to them making an effort to eat and drink less. This means they may not always ask for food or drink, even if they really need it. It can also mean you may need to make amends to how they eat and drink. For instance, if the person you care for has a reduced appetite, they may struggle to eat much during their meals so require frequent snacks in between to provide them with enough calories. Or you may need to increase the flavour in their food through things like herbs and spices to counteract their diminished taste buds.

These tasks make up a significant portion of what is known as ‘personal care’. This can cover a wide variety of different tasks, including helping your friend or relative to bathe, comb their hair, brush their teeth, cut their nails, apply creams and lotions, put on make-up, shave, and get dressed and undressed. It is often having to help with tasks like these that makes people realise they have become a ‘carer’, rather than just someone who provides normal day-to-day support for a friend or family member.

Helping someone who struggles with these things is crucial. Without help they could try and do them alone when they are not physically able to and injure themselves, for instance by slipping on a wet floor, falling when getting in or out of the bath or burning themselves on hot water. Or alternatively, they may just avoid washing, grooming or dressing themselves entirely, which can impact on both their physical and mental health.

Because of the nature of this type of care, it is even more important to allow the person you care for to do as much as they can of each of these tasks for themselves. This will allow them to retain as much dignity as possible. They may only need you to set up a safe environment for them or to give them reminders. Or they may just need your help to get in and out of the bath, and want to then be left alone to wash themselves. Even if you do need to be present to supervise them, it is good to try and be as discreet as possible and avert your eyes.

For those elements that you do have to do for your friend or relative, it is worth talking to them to find out what their preferences are for these activities. For instance, you could find out whether they prefer a bath or shower, what temperature they like the water at, if they want to wash their hair or their body first, whether they prefer to wash in the morning or the evening, or if they have any particular toiletries that they like to use. Simple things like having the chance to choose their own clothes for the day – even if it is just a choice between two outfits you have picked out, to make it simpler – can make them feel empowered and more in control of their own life.

It is also important to give them notice in advance of when these tasks are going to happen so they can prepare themselves and it is not an unpleasant surprise for them. Anything else you can do to minimise their discomfort, such as having a warm towel and clothes ready for when they get out the bath, can also help. It can also be nice to think of treats you could provide such as bubble bath, candles or even a professional massage or spa treatment. These can help them to relax, give them something to look forward to, and counter some of the potentially negative associations they might have with being helped with such personal tasks.

 

Helping your friend or relative to go to the toilet can feel even more invasive than helping with washing and dressing them. It is often the part of caring that people say is the hardest for both them and the person they are caring for.

There are a range of different tasks that they may need help with in order to go to the toilet. They could need support getting to the bathroom and then sitting down when they get there. You may need to help them with undoing zips and buttons or removing some of their clothes. They may need you to pass them toilet paper, or you may need to clean them yourself afterwards. And then you may need to help them wash their hands when they are finished.

It is common for people who require help using the toilet to get urinary tract infections from holding it in, so making it as pleasant as possible for them can make a big difference. Try to be patient and sensitive. Reassure them and put them at their ease. It is good to try and give them as much privacy as possible during this process by either leaving the room or turning away from them. Ask them to tell you when they are finished, rather than guessing yourself. It can also help to make sure the whole process isn’t rushed, and that the person you care for feels they have plenty of time.

If they have a condition that makes it difficult for them to communicate their needs or to realise they need the toilet, then try to look out for more subtle ways they might communicate they need to go, such as fidgeting or standing up and down a lot. You could also consider providing them with a flashcard or picture of a toilet for them to either hold up or point at.

If the person you care for suffers from incontinence, this can make trying to get them to the toilet much more urgent which can add to the stress of the situation and increase the risk of them getting injured. It can also lead to more accidents, meaning having to change their clothes and sheets more often. Or the person you care for may not be able to use a toilet, for instance if they cannot get out of bed or if the bathroom is on another floor and they struggle to climb the stairs. In these cases, other options such as incontinence pads, bedpans, sheaths or commodes might be helpful. See our guide 'Equipment and assistive aids to help the person you care for' for more information on all the options available.

Helping someone to use the toilet is one of the bits of being a carer than can have the greatest impact on your relationship. It may be worth considering whether there is another option for this care, such as hiring in external carers if you can afford them. Take a look at our guide 'How your relationships can change when you become a carer' for further advice about managing your relationship with the person you care for.

 

It is common for older people or those with health conditions to have trouble sleeping. This could be because they are in pain or discomfort, it could be a symptom of their illness (dementia, for example, can affect a person’s body clock), or it could be due to emotional or mental health issues including stress, depression and anxiety. However, getting a good night’s sleep can make a world of difference. Sleep boosts the immune system, helps the body to repair itself and allows the mind to de-stress. [1]

There are a few things you can do to help the person you care for get a better night’s sleep:

  • You could encourage your friend or relative to limit the amount of caffeine they have by cutting back on things like coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks and even chocolate, especially towards the end of the day.
  • If they drink alcohol regularly, you could suggest they avoid it as this can also disrupt sleep for some people.
  • Why not introduce a relaxing bedtime routine for them, including things like having a soak in a warm bath, making them a cup of camomile tea, listening to calming classical music or reading them a book? It can be worth trying a few different things to see what works best for them. The most crucial part though is consistency – whatever you decide to do, make sure it is the same every night.
  • It is often counterproductive for them to lie in bed for a long time, tossing and turning and getting increasingly frustrated that they can’t sleep. You could let them know that it can sometimes help to get up and do something else for a bit, such as reading a book, before going back to bed and trying again.
  • If they haven’t had much sleep the night before, it might help for them to have a short daytime nap to top up their sleep. Be careful about them having a nap too late in the day though or for too long, as it might stop them falling asleep that night. You might want to gently wake them if they seem to be napping too long or too late.

If you find they are regularly struggling to sleep, and particularly if it is impacting their life in other ways, it could be worth talking to their GP or their wider medical team about any support they can provide.

It can also be hard for you as their carer if their sleep issues regularly disturb your sleep too. Being sleep deprived can make every part of your own role harder. If you are finding it too difficult to manage, you could consider getting a paid carer in overnight to look after your friend or relative when they wake so that you can have a good night’s rest. If you aren’t able to do this, then it might be worth instead trying to arrange to have a break so that you can rest and recuperate. Check out our guide 'Taking breaks as a carer' for more details.

Many people who require care also need at least some help with keeping on top of their day-to-day household chores. These tasks could include vacuuming, dusting, mopping, washing dishes, doing laundry, changing bedding and making the bed. There could also be low-level maintenance tasks like changing a light bulb or plunging a toilet, or gardening jobs like watering plants, cutting hedges, weeding and lawnmowing that need doing. And if they have a pet, they could need feeding and walking too.

These household chores can sometimes be the first things to fall by the wayside for people who are struggling to manage by themselves. But if they are not done, it can add significantly to their stress and upset. It can also be bad for their health, through being unhygienic and providing potential trip hazards. And it can have wider repercussions – if they are embarrassed that their house isn’t clean and tidy, then they might not allow their friends and family to come and visit them leading to them becoming increasingly isolated. And once they get behind on doing these tasks, it can build up and build up until it feels impossible for them to get back on top of it.

Any assistance you can provide to help them manage these household chores can therefore make a big difference to their overall wellbeing. Although this can often mean just doing them yourself, it is still better to try and include the person you are caring for as much as possible. If they struggle to stand at the sink for a long time to wash dishes, for instance, you could do that part but get them to sit next to you and dry up instead. This is also an area where equipment and aids can be particularly helpful as there are lots and lots of options available that can make it easier for them to complete household chores independently. Take a look at our guide 'Equipment and assistive aids to help the person you care for' for more information.

If you are finding you are spending far more time than you would like doing their household chores and you would prefer to be spending your available time actually with your friend or relative instead, then it may be useful to hire in help from a cleaner, laundry service, gardener, dog walker or handyman.

Another part of your caring role could be helping your friend or relative with some of their less complicated medical needs. Anything particularly involved, like stomas and catheters, will likely be dealt with by a medical professional such as a community nurse. But there are other elements which may end up falling to you as their carer.

For instance, they may need help with medication. This could be anything from reminding them to take it at certain times of day, to organising repeat prescriptions and administering some medicines yourself, including some injections. They may also need help with other tasks, such as changing dressings or bandages.

It is normal for carers to feel worried or concerned about having responsibility for someone’s medications. It can be daunting being in charge of something so important, especially if there a number of medications for you to coordinate or this is the first time you have had this responsibility. Rest assured that you are not on your own, and that there is a lot of support available to help you feel more at ease. You can clarify any questions you may have with the person you are caring for’s medical team when the medication is prescribed. They will want to make sure that you fully understand what is required, so will be happy to help. If at a later stage you feel like you would benefit from some further support with understanding any medications, your local pharmacy can provide additional information and reassurance. Just get in touch with them and ask for their New Medicine Service (NMS).

You also may end up being the person you care for's advocate for all medical issues, making sure that their voice is heard, their conditions taken seriously and that they receive the treatment they need. If you feel that you would like some assistance with this part of the role, then it may be worth looking into getting an independent advocate for them. This is somebody who is separate to social services and the NHS whose role is solely to speak up for the patient and to make sure that they are heard. If you think this is something that would be helpful, take a look at our guide 'Getting an independent advocate'.

Another of the tasks that can often fall to a carer is assisting with all of the administration that your friend or relative may now struggle with. This could include making sure their bills are paid and that they are receiving all the benefits and other support they are entitled to. It can also mean ensuring that there is a plan for their care, with a timetable of when everyone is going to be looking after them. It can even include things like sending birthday and Christmas cards to their loved ones on their behalf.

Emotional support for your friend or relative is an often overlooked element of being a carer. People needing care are often at risk of suffering with their mental health and of being socially isolated and lonely. Providing emotional support and companionship are therefore two absolutely vital elements of looking after somebody.

The best way to provide emotional support and companionship for somebody is to simply to spend time with them. Talk to them about how they are feeling, listen to them when they talk to you and provide reassurance and support if they are upset or anxious. Simply being there with them and providing a reassuring presence and a friendly face can sometimes be enough to help them feel a bit better. Treat them as though you are just their friend or relative rather than also their carer. Although your days can sometimes seem overwhelmingly busy, it is important to take time out to sit down with the person you are caring for and have a chat, perhaps over a cup of tea in the garden or during a meal.

It can also help if you facilitate them getting emotional support and companionship from other sources. This could be by arranging for them to speak to or see their other friends and relatives. Or it could be through arranging for them to speak to a trained counsellor about any problems they might be facing.

Being a carer for someone doesn’t have to be all about work. Bringing some light-hearted fun to your friend or relative's life is also a really important part of your role. It deserves to be prioritised as much as washing the dishes or brushing their hair.

It’s important that the activities you choose to do together are fun for you both, so speak to the person you are caring for about what they would like to do. Ask them about their favourite games, hobbies and interests, and see which ones could be adapted to be suitable for you both to do together. This could be playing a game of Scrabble, doing a crossword, watching an episode of a soap opera you both enjoy, having a sing-a-long, or looking through old photographs together.

The day-to-day lives of carers can be very varied so not all our advice may be applicable to you and the person you care for. Not only are there vast differences in the needs of every person that is cared for, but there are also very big differences between the role that each carer takes on. Some carers even find that their tasks can vary hugely from one day to the next.

We have therefore provided a general overview of the most common tasks and the things that other carers say have helped them. This is not a substitute for your own experience and instincts as a carer though, and if you feel that anything we have recommended wouldn’t work well for you or for the person you care for, then that should definitely trump our advice. We hope that everyone should be able to find some ideas here that work for them and their situation.

For each of these tasks, you may be assisted in a more substantial way by either getting training in a particular area, using specially-designed aids and equipment or having your home adapted. For more information about any of these areas, take a look at our guides 'Training to help you in your caring role', 'Equipment and assistive aids to help the person you care for' and 'Home adaptations to help the person you care for'. We also have a separate topic covering tasks outside of the home. See our guide 'Helping someone to get out and about' for further details.

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