Family members and partners are often the first and main point of communication for older people with frailty who wish to engage with self-care, as well as often helping directly with the individual’s care. They may provide advice and support that can act both to reassure and empower the person, or even inadvertently cause distress and disempowerment (for example, if families or carers have a different perspective on risk management and are therefore reluctant to encourage a person to undertake certain activities or hold certain responsibilities). Furthermore, the role and responsibility of family and friends in self-care activities changes through an individual’s journey of frailty and level of independence. This could include a trusted family member being given legal authority to make decisions on the individual’s behalf through a Lasting Power of Attorney.
Family members and wider support networks are potentially powerful allies in supporting self-care, and the ability to work alongside them is an important skill for care professionals supporting self-care. Many of the skills necessary for supporting the individual to self-care are just as relevant to close family members and friends. For example providing information and signposting to increase family members’ knowledge and awareness can help to ensure consistent understanding, whilst family members can be crucial in helping individuals develop new skills and make best use of assistive technology. Family members may also help with increasing the effectiveness of communications with the individual.
Developing a good understanding of the social environment of the individual is the starting point for engaging family members. Care professionals need to be sensitive to family dynamics and cultural norms and, as far as possible, work with these to support the best interests of the individual.
However, what can be a source of strength and resilience can suddenly become a vulnerability if, for example, a partner or informal carer suffers an acute health event or other happening which prevents them from supporting the individual concerned. The risk of this may be compounded by the level of caring they undertake and so supported self-care can have benefits for both the individual and their carers.