Caring for a loved one who is sick can be a physically and emotionally draining process for everyone involved, although many people are unaware of the impact this has on the carer.
There are currently 2.7 million unpaid carers in Australia and while it’s a difficult time for the person living with a health issue, carers’ health is also hugely impacted by the situation. According to Carers Australia, carers have the lowest wellbeing of any large group in the country and face a number of struggles themselves including physical and emotional health problems, social isolation, financial worries and grief – particularly if their loved one’s health has changed dramatically.
One person who knows all too well the impact being a carer can have on life is Brisbane resident Wendy Soper. Now in her 70s, Wendy told Starts at 60 that she’s become the primary carer for her husband Alan, who has had dementia for a number of years.
“Alan has had dementia for quite a few years, slowly increasing,” Wendy explained. “It just came about because he slowly stopped doing things. We knew there was something wrong.”
While Alan still lives at home with Wendy in an independent living unit in Queensland, doctors decided three years ago that she needed some assistance in caring for her husband. The couple are on a government package and a professional carer visits Alan once a week. During this time, Alan is usually taken out for two hours, giving Wendy some much-needed alone time.
Wendy also has a carer, who visits her fortnightly to help her with chores and give her some much-needed time to chat about how she’s coping.
“Somebody comes in and takes me out every two weeks to do my grocery shopping – even though I’m capable,” she said. “That gives me another break from the constant watching. He’s not a wanderer, he likes to just sit. There’s not an awful lot of conversation these days.”
A typical day for Wendy involves her constantly watching over her husband. She starts her day by preparing his breakfast and medication, before going through the calendar with Alan so he knows what to expect for the day ahead. Sadly, because of his dementia, he will often still ask his wife the same questions throughout the day.
Alan can still prepare lunch and coffee, although without assistance and reminders from Wendy, he would forget.
“He relies on me for practically everything,” Wendy explained. “He has to be reminded to have a shower. It’s more like losing a partner and gaining a child.”
Caring for Alan and noticing the changes in her partner has had an emotional impact on Wendy’s life. She sees a psychiatrist and said that the help she receives from them is “invaluable.”
And while many carers find their life becomes restricted and they can’t do things they used to do, Wendy admitted she struggles to keep up with things that Alan used to take care of. While he still puts the rubbish out, Wendy can no longer rely on Alan for other simple tasks such as doing the washing or making the bed.
Thankfully for Wendy, Alan’s current condition still allows him to be left alone for short periods of time. In addition to her bi-weekly visits from a carer, Wendy still goes to the gym for exercise and classes.
“It’s about having some quality time out so that I can come home refreshed and ready to cope with whatever is confronting me,” she said.
Her advice for other carers is to surround themselves with other people they can talk to so they don’t become isolated or lonely. Wendy also said it was important to ask for help and to make use of assistance that is available.
“It’s all about making use of the care packages that are provided and don’t be ashamed to ask,” she said.