July 13, 2024

Four years ago, Mark Hornby and his sister Andrea faced a situation that will be familiar to many adults with ageing parents. Their mother, Margaret Wallace, then aged 79 and living alone in a large house just outside St Albans, was becoming increasingly frail as a consequence of Parkinson’s disease and osteoporosis. Because Mark lived nearly 50 miles away, the burden of care fell largely on Andrea, who lived nearby. But Andrea found it increasingly hard to fit her mother’s care around her own job.

It’s a problem replicated all over the country. According to the ONS, there are now 3.4 million people in the UK aged 80 or over, and Age UK research has found that about 4 million people over the age of 65 have a limiting long-term illness or disability. However much adult offspring want to help their parents, the stress of combining that with the demands of full-time jobs or looking after children can become unbearable – 65% of unpaid carers struggle with their mental health, and 31% feel they are at breaking point, a survey of 2,000 caregivers by home care provider Home Instead found.

After talking things through with their mother, Mark and Andrea decided that the best solution was to bring in professional carers. Margaret’s illnesses meant that she had specific needs, and Mark was relieved that when Home Instead made an initial visit its assessment of the support she needed “matched our expectation very closely”. This gave them confidence, Mark adds, that they knew they were “dealing with a company that understood the specific requirements”.

The arrangement worked well from the start. The Home Instead carers helped get Margaret out of bed in the morning, washed, dressed and then downstairs. During the day, they helped her to move around, and in the evening they were able to help her bathe or shower and get ready for bed again. Because the Parkinson’s had made her forgetful, the carers were able to remind her of which tablets she needed to take and when.

Andrea and Margaret.
Andrea and Margaret. Photograph: Mark Hornby/The Guardian

Many adult children, like Mark and Andrea, worry whether a paid carer will be able to provide the same level of attention that they would provide for their mum or dad. Some care companies offer only cursory visits lasting 20 or 30 minutes, focused on performing basic tasks, with different carers each time.

The care offered by Home Instead, however, puts the client at the centre of the service. Home Instead carefully matches each new client with a carer who has similar interests, and each visit is at least an hour long. They provide as much or as little care as the person needs, including looking after people with complex needs such as dementia, neurological conditions or mobility issues. In many cases, the care from Home Instead enables older people to stay out of hospital and be looked after in their own home.

“Home Instead are very good at trying to find the right care provider for the right client,” says Annette Adkins, a Home Instead carer. Most of Adkins’s clients are in their 80s, some with dementia, and she treats them, she says, as she would her own parents.

As well as offering support with activities such as getting dressed and cooking, Adkins provides much needed companionship. “I love being able to chat to the clients, and some of them have had such interesting lives,” she says. She tailors her support according to the client’s needs on a particular day. Some can no longer drive, so she’ll go out for a walk with them, or take them shopping. With one client, she shares a love of gardening, so they walk to the garden centre together: “She used to have a large garden. She now only has a small one, but she still loves going to see all the plants.”

Zahra Kelly, another Home Instead carer, says that she carries out a “wide variety” of tasks, which can include helping patients get dressed and bathed, making sure they take medication, managing safety in the home and looking out for patient wellbeing. “Sometimes you go to the pharmacy and collect some medication,” she says. “Some people want companionship and to go shopping together, or have a cup of coffee.” For Kelly, the opportunity to meet new people has been a “journey of self-discovery”.

One of her clients, a “fascinating” woman in her 90s, has helped Kelly appreciate life more – and she recently told Kelly how glad she was, late in life, to have made a new “best friend”.


Margaret’s situation became more difficult when Andrea was diagnosed with cancer. Unable to cope with living in her large house, she moved to a smaller house in St Albans, with Home Instead helping to move her possessions – a service that, as Mark says, went beyond what they were contractually obliged to provide.

Earlier this year, sadly, Andrea died, and Home Instead staff attended her memorial. Margaret now has 24-hour live-in care, with the care professional rotated every few weeks. Her carer helps her with all her basic needs, including cooking, shopping and keeping the house clean. They also offer companionship, Mark says: “Mum lives on her own, so having carers in the house provides her with somebody to talk to, which is good for her mental state as well.”

Recently, Margaret had a spell in hospital, and when she came out, the 24-hour carer was supplemented for a few days with a night-time carer – an extra person who is awake through the night who could provide the care Margaret needed if, for example, she woke up and wanted to use the toilet or get a drink.

For Mark and Margaret, Home Instead has provided support that has enabled them to get through a very difficult time. “They have been a support to us as a family as well as for my mother,” he says. “They have gone above and beyond what’s in the brochure.”

If you’d like to help someone’s loved one remain in their home, offering much-needed care, find out how to become a Home Instead Care Professional at homeinstead.co.uk/recruitment

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