13 – 19 October is National Carers Week, a week that recognises and celebrates the exceptional contribution the nation’s 2.7 million unpaid carers make every day. Unpaid family carers are a vital part of Australia’s health system. They are the pillars of support for our aged, disability, palliative and community care systems.
In Western Australia, over 320,000 people provide full time or substantial care to a family member or friend. According to Carers Australia, one in every eight people are carers and the chances are you personally are a carer, need a carer, or know a carer.
Carers provide emotional, social and financial support. They manage medication and personal care. Often the person they are caring for is their loving partner, a child, a family member or a close friend. Caring can be a 24 hour a day, seven day a week job, and the burden on carers often goes unrecognised. Despite this, many carers report looking after their loved one is one of the most rewarding roles they could undertake, even if it was something they never planned for.
Most people do not plan to become carers. Some people will take on the role of carer temporarily to support a sick family member after the sudden onset of illness or injury. But for many, the move towards a caring role is more gradual and long term. As couples grow old together, and one partner takes on more and more responsibilities, the line between partner and carer becomes blurred. This is particularly true if you are living with a person with dementia. At some point on the caring journey, the relationship between two people changes from that of husband and wife to one of giver and receiver of care. This shift in the relationship dynamic can be confronting to face.
In September, Alzheimer’s Disease International released the World Alzheimer Report 2019: Attitudes towards dementia. The survey of almost 70,000 people in 155 countries targeted four key groups, including carers. Over 50 percent of carers were positive about their caring role, and found it fulfilling. However, 75 percent of carers said they are often stressed between caring and meeting other responsibilities, and 50 percent of carers said their health suffered as a result of their caring responsibilities.
Carers are key to supporting people with dementia at home. Yet carers need to be supported too, to help them look after their loved one and also to help them look after themselves. Often it is only when a carer is sick or requires hospital treatment their family or friends realise just how much they do for the person they care for.
Alzheimer’s WA was founded by carers, and supporting carers is a vital part of the work we do. If you know a carer be sure to let them know you are thinking of them this Carers Week and, if you can, offer to assist in some way. This could be as simple as making regular contact to ask how they are, organising a meal, or arranging to visit so the person can run a few errands on their own.
If you are a carer, know that the work you do is truly inspiring. Remember that you and the person you are supporting are not alone in your journey. Above all, be kind to yourself; stay connected to family, friends and community; acknowledge your feelings; ask for help and take a break as often as you can.