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Six things to know during National Carers Week

Carers provide invaluable support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue, or who are frail aged. During National Carers Week take a moment to learn about and recognise Australia’s 2.8 million unpaid carers and their contribution to people nearing the end of life.


1.    Anyone, at any time, can become a carer

Finding out someone you know is seriously ill can come as a shock. Their world has suddenly changed. Anxiety, sadness and even anger are all common reactions to the news.

Caring for a family member or friend starts in different ways for different people. While the need for this help can occur suddenly, often it is gradual. You may start doing small things to help and realise that increasingly the person requires more of your time. This is not uncommon as people age, when the need for support from family and friends can become greater. In the beginning, your family member may not have a name or diagnosis for what they are experiencing.

Becoming a carer is often unexpected and can be demanding. Carers aim to provide the person with the support needed to help them live as well as possible.

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2.    Caring is often holistic

A carer is someone who helps and supports a person who needs assistance. The person needing assistance may be known to the carer, or a stranger in their community. They may be frail and elderly, young and living with a disability, have a chronic or mental illness, or be recovering after a long illness or accident.

Carers can provide physical, emotional, social, cultural and spiritual support. Caring also involves providing care for the person’s family and carers themselves.

“Being a carer for my mother is not a sacrifice….it is very fulfilling and I would not have it any other way but make no mistake, it is not an easy road I have chosen.” Anonymous Carer

3.    Carers contribute to the national economy

According to Carers Australia, “Should all carers decide to stop performing their caring role, it would cost the country $60.3 billion per year to replace those supports – that’s over $1 billion per week”. Carers make an enormous contribution to the individuals they support and complement the health care system by reducing demands on the industry.

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4.    Carers have mixed and varied backgrounds

Carers may be family, friends, volunteers or paid staff. The statistics below provide a snapshot of Australia’s 2.3 million carers:

  • 770,000 carers (28.6%) are primary carers, who provide most of the informal assistance to another individual.
  • Females make up the majority of carers, representing 69.7% of primary carers and 56.1% of all carers
  • In 2012, about 304,900 carers were youngerthan 25 years old; 683,700 were aged 25 to 44 years; 1.1 million were aged 45 to 64; and 580,000 were aged 65 years and over
  • Of the 1.9 million co-resident carers in 2012, 45.5% were the partner of the person they cared for, 20% cared for a parent, 23.4% cared for a child and 4.2% cared for a sibling
  • Carers may be family, friends, volunteers or paid staffMother and son sitting on the sofa at home and communicating. Taken at iStockalypse Milan. [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/search/lightbox/9786778][img]http://dl.dropbox.com/u/40117171/family.jpg[/img][/url] [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/search/lightbox/9786682][img]http://dl.dropbox.com/u/40117171/children5.jpg[/img][/url]

5.    Carers also need care

Caring for a person can be demanding and it is important to have strategies for support and respite. Here are a couple ways to help reduce stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness:

  • Allow people to help you. You will be able to help someone else at another time
  • Talk to family and friends
  • Consider joining a support group. Learn from the collective wisdom of other carers.
  • Allow yourself to express your thoughts and feelings privately. Keep a journal, draw or collect photos
  • Look after yourself. Do something to relieve stress and take a break, whether it is exercising, walking, swimming or gardening
  • Prevent burnout by seeking professional help and respite when you need itPicture of father and son spending leisure time in park

6.    Carers need to be prepared

As a carer you may be responsible for managing medication. You may also need to provide emotional, social or financial support.

It is always good to ask questions of the medical team caring for your loved one, if there is anything you need to clarify. No question is ever a wrong question, and your health care provider will aim to answer all questions you may have.

For carer services and supports connect to your nearest Carers Association or call 1800 242 636.

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