A support programme to help parents of disabled children stay healthy in mind and body will begin its first trial in the coming months, and is looking for participants.
Healthy Parent Carers is a programme which aims to help parents cope with the strain of being carers by encouraging them to take a bit of time to focus on their own wellbeing.
The study, run by the Peninsula Childhood Disability Research Unit (PenCRU) at the University of Exeter, will investigate the effectiveness and feasibility of implementing the scheme in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research, the research part of the NHS.
The scheme involves a set of evidence-based behaviours to remember and perform daily to keep healthy, denoted by the acronym CLANGERS, inspired by doctor, comedian and broadcaster Dr Phil Hammond, who defined the acronym in his book Staying Alive. CLANGERS stands for Connect, Learn, be Active, Notice, Give, Eat well, Relax and Sleep –which form the basis of the programme.
Lead researcher Dr Chris Morris, of the University of Exeter said: “Parents of children with disabilities are at risk of having poorer physical and mental health than other parents. The Healthy Parent Carers programme was co-developed in partnership with parent carers, featuring ideas to promote CLANGERS. The programme encourages parent carers to give themselves a bit of time and take small steps to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing.
“The scheme focuses on helping parents set small achievable goals; things like going for a 30 minute walk every day to stay active, taking a daily photo to encourage them to notice their surroundings, and sharing it with friends to connect with other people.”
Trial Manager Dr Gretchen Bjornstad said: “The programme has run once with a group of parent carers who provided positive feedback. Participants in the trial will either follow online guidance on how to improve their wellbeing at home, or join groups led by parent carers who are experienced facilitators, aiming to cultivate peer support and empowerment.”
The trial is recruiting participants around Plymouth and Torbay now, and after New Year around Dawlish, Bideford, St Austell and Minehead. Anyone interested in participating in the trial can get in contact by emailing email@example.com
Case study: CLANGERS gave me strength to carry on after breakdown
When Faye moved back to her childhood home county of Devon with three of her four autistic sons, she left her life behind her.
Family issues meant she was moving away from a £50,000 a year job as a telecoms project manager, to a life as a single mother on benefits, with few contacts and little knowledge of the support networks available to her. “I was at rock-bottom,” said Faye, whose sons are aged between nine and 22. “I had a breakdown, but I just had to get on with it for the sake of my boys.”
Faye, 44, was one of the initial parent carers to sign up to the pilot of Healthy Parent Carers four years ago, and still applies the CLANGERS principles today. “It was amazing – it really gave me the strength to go on, and it still does. Even meeting other parent carers was a revelation for me. It was great to know that I’m not the only one who sometimes ends up crying in my kitchen, or screaming because I don’t have all the answers.
“The programme kept me going. It helped me to prioritise making time for myself. I now go to concerts for a bit of ‘me time’. I’d definitely encourage other parent carers to sign up. I feel much stronger and better about myself. The programme gave me strength.”