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Caring for carers

There are more than 2.6 million unpaid carers across Australia and apparently even the smallest show of support can make all the difference.

I am a freelance journalist dedicated to travelling and keeping fit and healthy. A tragic (but proud) cat lady, I believe in the importance of staying strong, active and healthy in the most practical ways possible. I’m also committed to laughing every day, even if that means at myself…which is usually the case. Robyn Box

Recently the Australian Government launched DisabilityCare Australia (DCA) – a national program designed to provide insurance for those with permanent and significant disability, their families and their carers. It’s a fabulous initiative, and got me thinking about carers and the demands put on them.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 2.6 million unpaid carers across Australia. Over 310,000 of them live in WA providing support and care to loved ones and friends, often around the clock. What’s more is that with carer numbers into the millions, most of us probably know one.

A carer is deemed to be someone who provides care and support for a family member or friend who has a disability, is frail due to age or who has a mental or chronic illness. The Mental Health Council of Australia suggests they’re spending on average 40 hours a week providing care, and over 100 hours a week if those they are caring for have a disability.

So are we doing our bit to help care for the carers?

“It is important that everyone understands the complexity associated with caring,” says Rosie Barton, Program Manager for Carers WA. According to Ms Barton, carers can sometimes neglect their own health and wellbeing because they’re so focussed on caring for someone else’s. “A friend needs to understand this”, and apparently even the smallest show of support can make all the difference.

“A friend can offer to cook a meal for the carer, go for a walk with them, pick up a few groceries on their way home, help out in the garden, or just give them the time to talk,” says Ms Barton.

But is talking enough?

It’s a great place to start, but here’s a few other ways to show carers you care:
  • Take a break: Many carers probably aren’t getting their recommended 30 minutes exercise a day. So why not invite them to a yoga or Pilates class? Or even a half hour stroll down the street? “Any form of exercise helps soothe the spirit and mind,” says HBF’s Dr Duncan Jefferson. The Home and Community Care (HACC) funded organisations can also help with finding someone to look after their loved one whilst they take a break (ph 1800 200 422).
  •  Chip in: we mentioned it before, but if you see a carer struggling, why not help with running errands, whipping up a couple of extra servings of that pasta bake of yours or even offering to vacuum their house so they can take a break and catch up on Home and Away?
  • Pay attention: If a carer starts to isolate themselves, loses or gains weight in a short period of time, becomes unwell or appears stressed or run-down, this is a sign they need more help or support. Encourage them to contact Carers WA on 1300 227 377, who will help them find a support group in their local area. 
These suggestions may not be glamorous, but they’re genuine, and will go a long way in helping someone stay healthy – physically, emotionally and psychologically – in a time of need.

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