As the cold weather sweeps in and we all reach for our scarves and gloves, family carers are being urged by Care UK to make sure that they get flu jabs, not only for those they look after, but, just as importantly, for themselves.
Maizie Mears-Owen, head of dementia services at Care UK, is keen for family carers to make sure they are protected too. She said: “We know that family carers routinely put their loved ones first, and so may make a special effort to take them down to the doctor for their jabs. But it’s really important that they take the chance at the same time to have their own vaccination – after all, if they fall ill, the person they care for is affected too.”
Current government advice entitles everyone aged 65 and over, and anyone in a clinical risk group, to a free flu jab – what may be less well-known is that you are also entitled to a vaccination if you receive the carer’s allowance, or if you are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill. This is decided on an individual basis, at the GP’s discretion.
Nearly seven million people in the UK are family carers and most are unpaid. Of the approximately 700,000 people living with dementia in the UK, almost two-thirds are cared for at home by unpaid family carers.
Maizie added: “If you’re not sure whether you can get a flu jab – if, for instance, you’re younger than 65 – get in touch with your GP. You can explain that you look after someone as their main carer, that you’re concerned about what will happen to them if you fall ill and also raise any health problems of your own. You might fall into one of the clinical risk groups, which would make you entitled to a free jab. They will also be able to tell you if a flu jab is right for you.”
Even if you care for someone who isn’t entitled to their own flu jab – perhaps they are too young or not considered at risk – it makes good sense to be vaccinated yourself. Not only does it mean that you can care for your loved one without struggling with flu, but it also cuts the risk of the person you care for getting flu themselves.
Maizie said: “We really want family carers to look after themselves – if they can do that, they can not only lead healthy and happy lives themselves, but also care for their loved ones as they would wish.
“Many of our care homes have day centres where family carers are welcomed and supported, and we hold events across the country to offer them help, advice and even a treat, such as pampering sessions. They deserve the best support and help we can give them, and that includes helping them to look after themselves too.”