Keren Smedley, London

Challenge: to prevent an over-reliance on unpaid carers and to increase choice, control and well being for both carers and those that receive care

Keren Smedley’s children were teenagers when her mother was diagnosed with dementia. “It overwhelmed my life,” she says. “It threw me into both practical and emotional turmoil. I was continually called on to arrange care for my mother or to come and find her if she was wandering the streets, when I was also needed at home to help my children with school work and activities."

In addition to caring for two generations of her family, Smedley was also working as a writer and running Experience Matters (www.experiencematters.org.uk), an organisation supporting people in middle age. “As I work freelance it is not easy to take time off. I was called home from work more for my mother than I ever was for my children. People don’t accept that you need to leave to care for a parent as they do with a child. One organisation told me that if it kept happening they wouldn’t be able to work with me anymore.”

Through her work Smedley often comes into contact with middle-aged people who have become “sandwich carers”.

“It is a huge issue. Increasingly parents are living longer and having children later. People become completely torn between elderly parents and children, and live in a state of constant exhaustion and guilt.”

Better support for carers is desperately needed, she says – emotional as well as practical help. “When I look back on that time in my life I realise that I should have talked more about managing my ambivalent feelings about the situation rather than moaning,” she says. “We now run groups for people supporting elderly parents, where they are able to voice thoughts like, ' I wish I wasn't having to do this'. It is important to talk about these things, otherwise people repress all the guilt and anger.”

> Significant findings: care and support

> Significant challenges: personal autonomy and civic power

 

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