Caring for someone away from home

You may sometimes need a break from caring. Help is available to support you with looking after the person with cancer.

Other care options

Respite care

You may find you need time off from caring to have a break. This helps you look after your own health and well-being. It can stop you from becoming too stressed or tired to cope.

Respite care can provide short or longer breaks for carers. It could be for a few hours, an evening or a week or two. There are different options available including:

  • sitting services
  • day centres
  • short stays in a hospice, hospital, or care home.

To get respite care, you can ask social services for an assessment of your needs. This is called a carer’s assessment. A carer’s assessment can also be done after a needs assessment of the person you are caring for.

Some charities, such as The Respite Association can help with respite breaks for carers. This usually involves them arranging care packages for one or two weeks, so you can get some rest.

Ask your health or social care teams about what is available in your area. Carers Trust or Carers UK can also give information about what is available in your area.

Your GP, district nurse or palliative care nurse may be able to arrange longer breaks. For example, they might arrange for the person you are caring for to spend some time in a hospice.

Sitting services

You might be able to arrange for someone to sit with the person you look after. This could be for a few hours in the day, or for an evening. Sometimes sitters can stay overnight. Some sitters also help with housework or personal care, such as washing and dressing. Different charities, such as Carers Trust, offer sitting services.

Day centres

Your local hospice or hospital may run a day centre for people with cancer. The day centre may be able to look after the person you are caring for, for a short time. Lunch and transport to the centre is often provided. Some centres offer other services, such as complementary therapies.

Short stays

There may be times when you feel you need a longer break. Recognising when you need this is important. The district nurse or palliative care nurse may be able to arrange for the person you are caring for to have a short stay somewhere. This may be in a hospice, residential home or care home with nursing (nursing homes).

Having a break is a decision you need to make with the person you are caring for. They may even suggest it, especially if you are very tired. Both of you might enjoy a short break. It can help you both to feel rested and able to cope better.

You may use respite care to take a complete break from your situation. Or you may continue to visit the person during this time.

Talk to the person you are caring for about how you both feel. It is important to plan how to manage the break. Before deciding, you may both want to go and see the hospice, hospital or home, and talk to the staff. You could take other family or friends as well. This can help with any worries you both might have.

Care and residential homes

Residential care homes or care homes with nursing (nursing homes) give different levels of care. A social worker or member of the healthcare team can explain the difference. It can be short or long term. They can give you more information about:

  • local care homes
  • care that is given by the care homes
  • things to think about when choosing a care home
  • how to pay for care.

They can also help to arrange this type of care, but it may take time. Lists of local care homes are available from the adult social care department of your local authority. Care homes may not be available everywhere in the UK. Some charities offer independent advice about finding and paying for care, for example Age UK.

The person you are caring for may be able to get NHS continuing healthcare. This is care for people with ongoing complex care that is paid for by the NHS. Ask a health or social care professional how you can apply for this.

Before choosing a care home, you may want to find out more about it. The standard of care given by care homes and care agencies across the UK is checked by the Care Quality Commission. You can also ask your healthcare team or social worker for more information about this. They may be able to help you get a report on the care home or agency, so that you both feel confident about it.

Hospice care

Care in a hospice is always free. They specialise in managing symptoms, including pain. They are usually smaller and quieter than hospitals. Many have sitting rooms and space for family members to stay overnight.

You might think that people are only looked after in a hospice at the very end of their lives. But hospices can also offer care to help with symptoms (palliative care), or short stays to give carers a break. Sometimes the GP, district nurse, specialist palliative care nurse or social worker may suggest that the person you are caring for goes to a hospice for a time.

Sometimes it is hard to accept that it is in the person’s best interest to be cared for by health professionals. You may feel very upset and worry that they might not be able to come home again. But after a short stay, they may sometimes be well enough to come home.

The person you are caring for may have already told you that they want to be cared for in a hospice or palliative care unit at the end of their life. You may have already talked about this with them. They may have written down what they want in an advance statement.

Sometimes there is a waiting list to go into a hospice, but this is usually short. If you are not sure how you feel about hospice care, you can ask to visit first. This gives you the chance to talk to staff about any worries you have.