Northern Ireland news

Stroke carers at 'breaking point'

Cathy and Mark O’Donnell from Derry

CARERS of stroke survivors are at "breaking point" as they attempt to manage their own daily needs while looking after loved ones, according to new research.

The Stroke Association says one in five have not accessed any form of help after their lives were turned upside down.

The charity's 'Lived Experience' report also found that 40 per cent of those who have been caring for more than three years said they feel exhausted, with one in three stressed or anxious.

Despite this, more than a third of people caring for stroke survivors receive no emotional support.

There are more than 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK, which is predicted to rise above 2 million by 2035.

Cathy O'Donnell (55) from Derry cares for her husband Mark, who had a stroke in June 2008.

"I remember Mark going to the bathroom at half-time in the game he was watching," she said.

"When he didn’t return after a while I called out to him but there was no answer.

"Eventually I went in and found him slumped on the floor. I don’t know how but I got him out and lying on the couch again. I just knew he'd had a stroke."

Mr O'Donnell lost mobility on his right side and is now registered blind.

"Mark and I had only been together two years but we’d talked about marriage and I just wanted to get him back home with me," she said.

"I do remember that back at the start, I withdrew a lot from life in general as I was so overwhelmed at the time. It took me a couple of years to find myself again.

"I know that we had our family who all helped and we’ll always be grateful to them for that but we could have done with a lot more support from the health and social care services.

"I’ll always remember that around the time Mark was due to come home with me, I was just given a handful of leaflets. There was nothing to prepare me for what lay ahead.

"That Monday night in June 2008, within seconds of Mark going to the bathroom, I became a carer. My whole life changed."

Ms O'Donnell added: "We’re conditioned to just get on with it the best you can but the more you know, the more confident you can be in asking for the right support for you and the person you’re caring for.

"I always say now, ask for everything and refuse nothing."

Barry Macaulay from the Stroke Association NI said: "These new figures show, over time, taking on the role of carers often comes at the cost of their own health. Sadly, far too many people are facing this devastating situation alone and unsupported.

"Carers need support, advice and information to help them balance caring while taking care of their own well-being.

"We need to make sure that every person who cares for a stroke survivor has the right emotional, financial and practical support in place."

Clare-Anne Magee from Carers NI said: "Unpaid carers and the people they care for urgently need better quality support and access to services.

"The Department of Health must deliver plans for social care reform that ensure carers get the practical and financial support they need to care without putting their lives on hold."

For further information see www.stroke.org.uk/livedexperience.

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