It’s hard to believe that there are 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia – those who provide endless hours of high quality care to their loved ones whilst making significant sacrifices to their own lifestyles.
If carers were replaced by paid workers, the cost would be over a billion dollars each week. Yes that’s right, each week (Carers Australia, 2015). But more importantly, 96% of these carers are family members who provide a quality of care that is irreplaceable. And that’s why our community support is imperative in every way possible. Research shows that when carers battle alone, their health and mental well-being may also become affected.
If you are a carer, here are some tips and tricks that will guide you along the way and help you to improve your own health and well-being.
So, what support can carers access?
If you have already started to provide several hours of care in a week, chances are that the person affected is covered under the NDIS. This reduces the burden on carers by providing the patient with resources that can help them with a range of services aimed at improving their quality of life. But the NDIS actually also supports the carer, because they too understand that there are a lot of in changes their lives. Some changes may include:
- The quality of the relationship. When one is heavily dependent on the other. The person being cared for may be a child, partner or parent, and the carer may experience feelings of resentment, fear, anger and guilt and may therefore need to be supported through the emotional upheaval with counselling.
- Caring entails sacrifice. Some carers may have to cut back on work, adding financial difficulties to the mix, or may even have to miss out on education and training opportunities.
- Being a carer can be socially isolating. There is less time for the extended family and friends, leading to distance and isolation from what can often be a strong support network.
- Fear of the future. Carers often worry about life after the loss of someone they have cared for. They feel isolated and are unable to make a new start.
Where does a carer access the resources available to them?
The starting point for information should be the Australian government’s Carer Gateway. A national online and phone service that provides practical information and resources to support carers.
There are a few different categories of carers:
- Young carers (under the age of 25): This is recognised as a particularly vulnerable group as they are more fragile and could be missing out on educational and employment opportunities. They could also be carrying a heavy load of domestic duties. This carer group has access to the following resources:
- Respite care: Someone to help with domestic chores and help look after the patient so they attend school, get some exercise or see friends
- Counselling: Young carers can have deep resentment about their responsibilities, especially when their peers seem to lead normal lives. Counselling provides these carers with tools to help them cope.
- Support networks: Besides those offered by the government, young carers can find networks at school, university and TAFE, by speaking to counsellors. This support is critical in encouraging the carer to complete their education.
- Older carers: This is the category of carers that goes unnoticed and unassisted. Often a family member, such as a partner or parent, who don’t consider themselves a carer and who therefore don’t seek help. This can result in emotional and physical exhaustion. Carer support for this group includes:
- Specialist support: This comes from agencies such as Alzheimer’s Australia, Dementia Behaviour Management, Beyond Blue, National Incontinence Helpline, etc.
- Aged Care Support: Available to all primary carers looking after older people who may be eligible for in-home healthcare.
- Counselling: There are several helplines, support and advocacy groups that inform, counsel and in general guide the carer to look after themselves better.
- Financial assistance: If caring involves substantial costs, carers can approach Centrelink to see if they qualify for assistance.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers: Carers Australia provides this group with specially designated project officers who can assist with:
- Alternatives while the carer is at work.
- Financial assistance to reduce the cost burden of medicines, equipment, diet and doctor visits.
- Community support to enable carers to fill out forms and complete Centrelink formalities so they can access their services.
- If carers need a break, respite care can be arranged.
- If carers are in remote areas, there are agencies that will connect them to mobile health and counselling services, patient assisted travel schemes and accommodation costs.
The government also offers special support to carers who are culturally and linguistically diverse (who can access translation services, local associations etc.), and the LGBTI community (who get legal assistance if they are denied access appropriate and sensitive resources.) Rights groups working for the LBGTI community also provide complementary support groups, legal advice and counselling.
So for the 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia, the good news is that there is plenty of support from the Australian government and the community. So, reach out today and contact the Carer Gateway, Carer Australia, or speak to your GP who will connect you to the appropriate agency. You owe it to yourself to be mentally and physically fit, and the person you are caring for will also benefit from a healthier and happier you.