The path that leads us to becoming a Carer is different for everyone. It may be that a family member or friend needs help urgently – for example if they’ve had an accident, stroke or sudden illness. Alternatively, they may have experienced a gradual process with physical and/or mental changes slowly making it more difficult for them to care for themselves.
Initially, when a family member or friend sustains serious injuries or sudden health problem, it’s not uncommon to feel stressed and anxious at the prospect of becoming a Carer, particularly if you have never been in a caring role. Many people who have suddenly become Carers have described feelings of helplessness, sadness and fear of the unknown.
Medical professionals may discuss with you the types of support and assistance that you may need to undertake the Carers’ role. If the family member or friend is elderly, they may also discuss the option of moving them into an aged care facility. If possible, it is important to take your time to consider your options, and to think possibilities through together with the person. You will need to carefully consider whether you can provide the necessary care on your own, or whether other options for support will be required to allow the person to continue living at home.
It may be that you have been caring for your family member or friend for a long time before the question of considering other options arises. This can be a difficult conversation to start, and you may want to seek assistance from other family members, their GP or other medical professionals.
Throughout you journey as a Carer, it is always important to remember that looking after your own health and wellbeing is essential to help you maintain your role as a Carer.
Which option is best?
You will need to research all of the options available, so you can make an informed decision together. Whatever the situation, keep in mind that even a severe condition does not necessarily mean moving out of the family home is the best option. With the right level of support many people can manage at home, and often older people prefer to stay in their familiar surroundings rather than be moved to somewhere unfamiliar. However, there may be clear indications that the person you provide care for may benefit from moving into an aged care or similar facility. These include:
- Serious mobility problems
- Significant incontinence problems
- Challenging behaviour such as aggression or wandering
- Considerable problems with communicating
- Difficulties in remembering, thinking and planning
Am I considered a Carer?
If you are looking after someone living with a dementia, disability, mental illness, terminal illness, chronic condition, alcohol or drug related problems or a person who is frail aged, then you may be a Carer.
Some Carers provide support and assistance to another person for 24 hours a day. They assist with all types of activities, like bathing and dressing, preparing meals and feeding, toileting, lifting and moving, or helping with medicines. Other Carers provide support to people who are reasonably independent, however they require assistance with activities like housework, shopping, banking and transport.
There are legal definitions for who is considered to be a Carer, and if you are a Carer you may be able to access support. Most importantly, there are people who understand what you are experiencing and can help you.
Being a carer
Carers can be family members or friends. They can be parents, children, siblings, grandparents or neighbours. They can come from any cultural background, and live anywhere is Australia. You can become a carer without warning, because of an accident or sudden illness, or gradually from a worsening chronic illness.
It may be that you are not the only person who provides care for someone, and you may not provide care 7 days a week. Every Carers’ situation is different in some aspects.
Australian Government Legislation Definition
The Australian Government’s Carer Recognition Act 2010 states that a Carer is someone who provides care and support for a relative or friend who:
- Has a disability
- Has a mental health problem
- Has a medical problem (including an ongoing medical condition, or an illness that’s expected to end in death)
- Is frail aged
Some State and Territory laws are based on this Act, and others are not, though they are all similar.
Carers can access support and assistance from the Government and other organisations. This may include financial help and support to make your life easier.
Who Is Not a Carer?
You are not considered to be a Carer if you are in paid employment to provide care for someone, if you work as a volunteer for an organisation or if you are completing work experience as part of a course.
As an example, a ‘home care worker’ is not the same as a Carer.
Visit Carers associations in your State or Territory for groups that provide advice, help and support for Carers.
Visit Carers Australia or call 1800 242 636 for more information.
If you need respite, Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centres may be able to organise either short-term or emergency respite services.