It’s National Carers Week, so we’re putting the spotlight on those who selflessly care for others, often with no support.
Carers often find themselves in a caring role not by choice, but by chance or circumstance, most commonly because a family member or friend has a significant physical or mental health challenge.
It is therefore out of necessity that carers find themselves providing the physical and emotional support for a loved one.
Carer Kerry Beake can relate as a full-time carer for her father who has dementia.
“He could no longer take care of himself at home and needed help with shopping, cooking, cleaning, and paying bills.
“He was also losing weight.”
Aged care wasn’t an option, said Ms Beake, as her father is an active older person.
“The activities in aged care wouldn’t have suited him.”
However, becoming a full-time carer can be a shock for those new to this demanding role.
“I don’t think I realised what was fully involved and the impact it would have on my life.”
As such, older people must make plans for when they are unable to care for themselves, as this can be difficult for adult children, advises Ms Beake.
“My Dad never wanted to talk about plans for the future, and I think like many are in denial.”
What’s Great About Being a Carer?
There are positives to the caring role, said Ms Beake.
“I’m learning a lot about dementia.
“It has allowed me to share my experience and insights with others who are worried that their parents may be heading in this direction.”
There is also the benefit of pooling resources, which for Ms Beake meant escaping the rental market and providing a comfortable home for her father.
“Dad has stabilised his weight, is happier overall and more settled and far more social than he was on his own.”
What Are the Challenges of Caring?
There are many universal challenges faced by carers, including physical, emotional and financial hardship.
“The negative for me is that it has likely cost me my master’s degree.
“I was all but finished, but no amount of negotiation saw the university accommodate for me then or now.
“There needs to be more recognition of the role of carers and the enormous burden it places on them mentally and physically.
“It impacts our life, our capacity to join in and do what our friends are doing,” says Ms Beake.
How Can We Support Carers?
Carers are time-poor as many are working, managing family life as well as caring for a significant other.
Unpaid carers caring for their loved ones are the hidden pillar of our healthcare system.
The replacement value of the unpaid care they provide totals $60.3 billion a year – over $1 billion per week1.
In rural and regional areas, carers need more support as the tyranny of distance makes it hard for them to easily access services that could assist them in their caring role.
If you want to support a carer, your time is the greatest gift, says Leah Goodman, Managing Director of Merck Healthcare and the Embracing CarersTM Time Counts initiative.
“There is no better way to support someone than to give them your time.
“Taking time out is not something that unpaid carers get to do as often as they need or want to.
“Most of us take this for granted, but carers invariably put their loved one first and themselves last, to the detriment of their own health, wellbeing and finances,” says Ms Goodman.
Embracing CarersTM Time Counts aims to increase awareness, discussion and action around the often-overlooked needs of these carers.
“Due to the nature of the caring role, the time of an unpaid carer is often not their own,” says Ara Cresswell, CEO of Carers Australia.
“The contribution that carers make to the person they care for and to the community more broadly should be acknowledged and celebrated at every opportunity.
“It is only by this consistent awareness-raising that we can build a national consensus of the many issues faced by unpaid carers and how they must be adequately supported in their own right,” says Ms Cresswell.
“Parents with children have more options and may have the support of other family members or parents.
“No one offers with an older person.
“I am grateful for my one friend who enjoys snooker and takes dad to the seniors’ centre where they play. I so appreciate that,” says Ms Beake.
Do You Support a Loved One with Dementia?
If so, you may be interested in Supporting People With Dementia. This online course is designed to provide you with the knowledge and skills required to provide support to people with dementia in a variety of settings including family homes, community day settings and residential care facilities.