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Caring for adults
Caring for adults

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2.1 Care or support – what’s the difference?

There’s a subtle but very important distinction between caring for someone and supporting them, which can mean the difference between being just ‘OK’ and living to their full potential.

Caring for someone

Although we use the term ‘caring for someone’ throughout this course, and it is the most widely used term for looking after someone, the simplest care involves helping someone in their daily needs. An example of simply caring for someone would be ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ to which the reply is ‘Yes’. The carer then makes and hands the individual a cup of tea. On the face of it, this looks like good care but what part does the cared-for person play in this task?

Supporting someone

Described image
Figure 2 Supporting a person to feed herself

If ‘caring for someone’ is the minimum standard, ‘supporting someone’ goes to the next level. It is about empowering people to take more control over even the smallest things in their lives or even a small part of a small thing; things that most of us would take for granted. Basically, it’s about seeing every ‘care need’ as an opportunity to help the person you care for to make choices, develop skills and be more involved in creating their own outcomes. This should be a gradual process, supporting the person bit by bit to lead a more fulfilled life.

Let’s go back to our example of the cup of tea. You have asked ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ and the reply was ‘Yes’. The extra step is supporting the individual to complete as many of the stages of making the tea for themselves that they are able to. They may only be able to put the tea bag in the cup but that is a start. Maybe they could also switch on the kettle and get the milk from the fridge in time. Yes, it will take longer but will be much more rewarding for the individual than just being given a cup of tea. It is true that it may be a nice thing to make someone a cup of tea but not if they never have the opportunity to make one for you.

Why the distinction is important

Without supporting the people we care for to become empowered there are few chances for them to continuously develop in all aspects of their life. By supporting them in even the smallest tasks, they make progress every day – it might be two steps forward, one step back, or only happen over a long period of time, but the important thing is they are making progress.

In terms of care provision it is important because it is the ‘harder’ path to take for staff and caregivers. It involves more patience, more thought, more involvement and more time. But becoming more involved in someone’s development engages carers more, and it is rewarding to see the person you care for achieve something new or be able to do something they were able to do when less care was needed. It gives better outcomes for both staff and carers and the people they are supporting.

As carers we tend to do things for the people we support as we underestimate their abilities or because it is quicker. But do you want to make life too easy for the people you support, with too many ‘get outs’? Why would they make the effort if you do it all?

This approach can lead to you telling the people you support what should happen rather than giving them the choice. Isn’t this the way that we treat our children until they start creating and living their own lives? And those who can’t communicate in the same way can become trapped and will often find another way to rebel in their desire for individuality. This can express itself as challenging or anti-social behaviour.

Activity 5

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Read the case study below and put yourself in Betty’s shoes. Then answer the questions that follow.

Case study: Betty

Described image
Figure 3 Betty

Betty is a widow in her 70s who lived independently until she had a stroke recently. She has made a good recovery of her speech and cognitive skills but has lost the use of her right arm and is unsteady on her legs. Betty has family but none of them live close by and she receives support from a private home care service.

Betty gets frustrated at not being able to do all the things she used to, and feels the carer doesn’t have time to listen to her and find out what she needs: ‘She just carries out her tasks and goes off to the next customer’.

  • How would you feel if you were Betty?
  • How could the carer enable Betty to be more independent and do the things she wants in life?
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Betty has already said that she thinks the carer doesn’t have time to listen so she may feel that she is being ‘a nuisance’. But other feelings may include frustration at having to be reliant on other people – she may be angry that this has happened to her. Betty has always been independent, so she may also be angry at herself because she can’t do everything she used to do.

The carer could take some time to find out about Betty’s feelings and the way she would like to be supported. They could work on a care plan so that anyone supporting Betty would know how she would like to be treated, and what is important to her and for her to enable her to have a good day.

By allowing Betty to do the parts of tasks she can manage for herself, she would feel more independent and less reliant on others.