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The role of the carer

Ros and Joan

Next week is National Carers Week; a week that recognises and celebrates the exceptional contribution Australia’s 2.7 million unpaid carers make to our country.

According to Carers WA, there is an estimated 320,000 family carers living in WA. The majority of these people probably did not plan to become a carer, especially caring for a loved one with dementia.

A diagnosis of dementia is not something people plan for, and it can be an overwhelming experience for both the person diagnosed and their families.

We recognise the difficulty to changing roles and responsibilities when there is a diagnosis of dementia and you take on a caring role.

Our 2018 Walk to Remember Ambassador, local journalist and published author, Ros Thomas, knows only too well the upheaval of a dementia diagnosis and the impact a diagnosis of a parent can have on both your work and family life.

In 2015, as Ros was delighting readers with her incredibly relatable weekly column published in this newspaper, and raising two small children and a teenager son, she was also dealing with the confusing and often confronting symptoms with her mum, Joan.

Ros had a very upsetting episode where her Mum left her 3-year-old daughter in a park alone and walked home without her. Ros believes her Mum seemed unable to comprehend the danger.

Shortly after, Joan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and with no siblings to call on for help or support Ros became her Mum’s sole carer and her writing career was temporarily put on hold.

Joan was still living in her own home and fiercely protective of her independence, so Ros began running her Mum’s day-to-day existence including taking care of the mail, cooking her dinner, organising medical appointments, arranging tradesmen, cleaners and gardeners, social interactions with friends and general household expenditure. All this while juggling her own young family and household.

It is imperative carers look after themselves when caring for and supporting others.

Being a support person is a huge journey in itself and making sure you acknowledge this will help you navigate your way.

If you are a carer, how long has it been since you have done something that was just for you?

Things to remember:

  • Be kind to yourself
  • Stay connected to family, friends and community
  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Ask for help
  • Take a break

Alzheimer’s WA recognises that supporting a person living with dementia can be challenging given the complex and changing nature of dementia. Early access to information, support and services is shown to reduce carer burden and allow the person with dementia to remain at home for longer.

It is important to remember that you and the person you are supporting are not alone in your journey. Alzheimer’s WA offer a range of support services if you are in a family carer role, and this can help free some time for you to spend solely on you.

And as for Ros’ mum Joan?

Apparently, Joan flatly refused any out-of-home respite and was determined not to move into any sort of care facility. However once the geriatrician advised Ros that Joan was no longer safe at home, Ros knew she had to get her Mum moved into an aged care facility.

While there was some initial hurdles with the adjustment, I am happy to report that she is now very settled at the aged care facility and loves being out in the garden.

Most days Alzheimer’s does not inhibit her. She is still very independent. She attends WASO music concerts, catches up with her club to play table tennis once a week, walks, rides her bike, is part of a movie club and attends social functions.

Ros tells us that for all her guilty frustrations about putting her mum into care, she delighted Joan has retained much of her independence.

Support can make such a positive difference to how you and your family adjust the news of a diagnosis. We are here to provide the help you need, when you need it.

From all of us here at Alzheimer’s WA, we would like to acknowledge the amazing contribution all unpaid carers make to our community.

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