The overlooked role of carers in supporting people’s social networks – Dr Anne Kennedy

Social network mapping tool EUGENIE
Social network mapping tool EUGENIE helps people expand their support network. Dr Anne Kennedy’s team have been working to use the software tool to provide support to people with long term conditions

In our work looking at how people’s social networks help them in living with a long-term condition, we have been able to show the vital role carers play in keeping people actively engaged with social activities. We know that having a diverse range of support and activities are important for health and wellbeing and carers are the key link in helping those they care for access enjoyable social events by providing both encouragement and transport.

Very often, carers have a long-term condition themselves and it can be a struggle to find time to do enjoyable things for their own health and wellbeing when they are looking after someone who is very dependent on them. People are very reluctant to be seen as being a burden to others and find it difficult to negotiate obtaining help from others. However, we have found that people who get ill and who have a large network to support them, are less likely to need medical care from the NHS and have better health prospects. So it is important to find ways to help carers expand their own support networks as well as those of the person they provide care for.

Carers are what we have called ‘super-helpers’ within networks – they do a lot of the day-to-day work about illness management that is generally unacknowledged.

For example, in illness management they help with: getting medications from the pharmacist and working out when they should be taken; taking and interpreting measurements (such as blood sugar levels); understanding symptoms and what to do about them; making appointments and remembering and interpreting treatment instructions. In addition, carer super-helpers often have to do the everyday work of housekeeping; repairing; child rearing; support related to diet and exercise; shopping and cooking; personal care; as well as providing emotional support and companionship.

For more on social networks and health see the CLAHRC Wessex website

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