A DAUGHTER has told how she fell asleep at the wheel from exhaustion after regularly driving 600 miles to look after her frail elderly parents.

Louise Thompson, who was working as a commercial director for De La Rue, in Basingstoke, is calling for more support for the UK’s ‘hidden army’ of adult carers after regularly making a 600-mile round trip to look after her parents.

At 3pm, Louise would sometimes tell colleagues at her office in Basingstoke that she was heading home to finish a report. In reality, she would finish her work after driving 300 miles up the M1 to spend a sleepless night caring for her parents, following their devastating dementia diagnosis.

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Louise and her father (Image: The Carents Room) Louise, from Sussex, was forced to commute from opposite ends of England to maintain the impossible balancing act of working as a senior company executive in Basingstoke and caring for her parents in the North East.

“It was exhausting and I found myself falling asleep at the wheel of my car,” admitted the 55-year-old, who has since lost both of her parents and has decided to speak out during Carers Week to raise awareness.

“I was jeopardising my career, yet I wasn’t doing a good job for anyone. I was simply hurtling between three counties trying to balance my work and home lives, whilst caring for two people I could never turn my back on and would do anything for.

“I was 300 miles away and my dad would call me asking for help with really basic things – even just changing the TV station.

“It became my own triangle of hell, which was made worse by the lack of support available at the time. I’d find myself awake at 5am after sleeping in their living room, desperately Googling for help and – at the time – there was nothing in the way I needed to consume it. You felt incredibly isolated.”

She’s just one of an estimated four million Brits who act as informal carers for elderly relatives, a figure forecast to soar in the coming years due to the UK’s rapidly aging society.

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Dubbed ‘carents’, they are the largest carer cohort in the UK and are often middle-aged children who either have to juggle caring with their careers – or give them up completely.

A poll carried out ahead of Carers Week has revealed that 50 per cent of British adults believe they’ll never need to care for someone, despite the looming care crisis.

And the study, carried out by a social enterprise called The Carents Room, has also uncovered the shocking toll the role is having on carents like Louise.

Half of all carers for elderly relatives have neglected their own health in order to do the role, the poll found, while 60 per cent say their mental health has suffered.

“Many assume that the state will provide for them in later life, meaning that people, particularly in younger age groups, generally give little thought to planning for their old age,” said Dr Jackie Gray, founder of The Carents Room – a platform supporting carents.

Dr Gray, a GP and public health consultant, launched The Carents Room after her own experience of caring for her elderly father.

Louise described it as a “lifeline” for carents.

And on the back of her own experience she’s created her own app, called ‘Myfolks’, which she’s funded by cashing in a pension pot.

It aims to tackle the “killer” that is social isolation by allowing carents to book someone who is DBS checked to help temporarily ease the strain. Often former carents themselves, they can help with odd jobs or provide much-needed company.

“Being a carent is such an emotional rollercoaster and there can be highs, but it is also emotionally, physically and financially draining,” Louise said, adding: “You feel so conflicted as you find yourself so drained, yet with your parents or whoever you are caring for, you can often never do enough for them.

“Often parents are pleading not to be put in a home, but often they don’t realise how much pressure that is putting on their children who are often older themselves by that point.

“It is much harder than you can ever anticipate, and we need to talk more as a society about the reality of carenting – from funding care to the toll it can take looking after a parent with dementia in the small hours.

“And we also need to better brace people who are in their 60s that the retirement you thought you were getting may now include caring for a 90-year-old – but it is great that there are now finally resources available to help guide them.”

For more information visit carents.co.uk.