For local resident and carer Louise Brown, the impact of looking after her father before he entered full time residential care had a huge impact on her, her career and family life.
"The role of being a carer is physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally demanding," Dr Brown says. Sharing her story with Peninsula Living, she says the experience can also be exhausting, stressful, frustrating and lonely. "Many people suffer social deprivation at times and possibly relationship problems."
Many carers are looking after family members with disabilities, mental health issues and early onset dementia. These roles leave little free time for relaxation or to pursue other activities.
"The pressure of ’keeping it together’ is quite difﬁcult and in many cases it can be called a 'living grief,” says Dr Brown. "It’s not just a physical loss, but a loss of the person you knew or who they were. This is particularly true caring for someone who has a potentially fatal non~curable disease like dementia and watching them slip away.”
"Trying to work out what you need in the situation can be overwhelming and also trying to ﬁnd the right resources. Attempting to maintain a normal life, friendships and relationships with others is also challenging. It really is a constant struggle and most people do not'know what strain you are under.”
Statistics from Nsw Carers Australia shows there are approximately 850,000 carers in the state, with about 200,000 acting as a primary carer. Carers are assuming an increasingly signiﬁcant role in our society, with the problems and responsibilities growing, as the aged care demographic continues to increase in the next few decades.
By definition, a carer is someone who provides unpaid care and support to a relative and often feels an 'emotional obligation“ todo so.
Community Connect Northern Beaches, carers coordinator Ana Kardum, says discussions with members of her groups - who come from various areas on the peninsula - show that support is crucial.
“Carers face a lot of challenges” Ms Kardum candidly tells Peninsula Living.
“If you're caring for someone with a mental health disease, you may be isolated by people who don‘t want to deal with you, and caring takes up so much of your time that you don’t have any time to be linked to the community or build on your relationships.
"On top of that, it's an incredible strain ﬁnancially, carers might not be able to work at all or as much as they want, medical bills are huge and more and more services are being cut from Medicare.
“And of course there's the emotional upheaval.”
Ms Kardum says most carers are close to breaking point when they attend one at her groups.
“Generally carers come to support groups when they're at crisis, so they manage for some time but with so much stress and when they come to us they get emotional and practical support, so we stabilise them," she continues.
“Aside from the emotional support and education, we give them information and often invite service providers to come in and explain their services and how our carers can reach them, how they can plan for the future etc.
“After one session they start coming on a regular basis because they feel like 'This is my time, this is where people understand me', and they always feel much better.”
Many people are also turning to professional paid carers to ease the load and provide respite for a few hours a week. James Trude, director of Home instead Senior Care, says staying at home and offering support is something seniors and their families are looking for. “The beneﬁts are very broad, not just for the individual but for the family, the community and the health care system. “Not everyone can afford professional respite, but if they can, it brings a high level of ﬂexibility for the families,” he says.
Dr Brown says more respite in an already overloaded system is urgently needed. "It depends on what you need but finding the right service can be a minefield - it can be very, very difficult. Centrelink needs to have a better response to the needs of carers, sitting on the phone for up to an hour is ridiculous and people don't have that much time to waste.”
Being able to join a group and talk in the "same language” is invaluable to many people."Being able to talk to each other, sharing laughter, sorrow, grief, loss and frustrations is important, plus boxes of tissues and cups of tea and coffee," Dr Brown confirms.
Ms Kardum implores anyone struggling with the pressures of caring to contact Community Connect Northern Beaches on 9931 7750 and meet others dealing with the same challenges. There is even a Multicultural Carers Program.