This month National Carers Week shone a light on the carers in our society. Carers of aged loved ones often have many other demands on their time, while the emotions involved with being a carer can be overwhelming. Rita Merienne, the woman behind carer support network Aged Care with Ease, has some important advice to help carers look after themselves too.
In 2012 a family tragedy left Rita as the main carer for her father, who was in aged care in another state. Working full-time while raising a child, Rita flew interstate to take her dad to regular medical appointments and ensure he felt loved and cared for.
“It’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have,” Rita said. “To think, ‘Oh, they’re in an aged care home, there’s no caring that needs to be done.’ It’s totally false.”
“It’s general dental, medical care. It’s spending time with them. Just because they’re in an aged care home doesn’t mean to say you don’t care.”
Rita also felt a consuming sense of guilt about putting her father in a home, which she says is common among the carers she works with.
“I was at the home all the time because I felt guilty that I didn’t have dad living in the house with me.”
“The guilt you can feel when you put an aged loved one into a home is really difficult. And that guilt is overpowering at times.”
Rita felt alone and overwhelmed, but she has since discovered there are lots of other people in similar situations. Whether providing the extra care needed for a relative in an aged care home, or assisting someone to live in their own home while waiting for a home care package, or helping an aged loved one with medical appointments and meals, there are many reasons someone might become a carer for an aged loved one. These carers are often working and raising families of their own.
“How do you manage that if you’re working full-time as well? How do you do that? How do you manage that if you’ve got four kids and you’re married and you’re living three suburbs away?”
Since 2014 Rita has been answering those questions for people through her support network Aged Care with Ease (ACE), sharing advice and support with other carers of aged loved ones. One of the biggest things she addresses is “compassion fatigue”.
The Four Steps to Compassion Fatigue
“It’s really tough to accept care from your child. And there are a lot of emotions involved.”
Rita says compassion fatigue is a common experience for untrained carers.
“This is huge. Professional carers learn about this. Nurses, doctors, professional aged workers are taught this. But as a family person who cares for their aged loved one, you’ve got no idea what compassion fatigue is. And it’s really simple.”
Step One: Enthusiasm
“When you first start caring for someone that you love, or caring for anybody for that matter, you’re going to get excited about it, like ‘I’m gonna do this, I feel so good that I’m gonna do this.’ You’re enthusiastic, It’s wonderful.”
Step Two: The Mundane
“And then the mundaneness starts to settle in. You’re doing this all the time, the same stuff over and over, and it gets really frustrating.”
Step Three: Frustration!
“And then the frustration actually starts sitting in. “For goodness’ sake, can’t they help me a little bit? You know, I’m giving up my life to do this for them, can’t they help me?””
“I’m going to put this out there, our aged loved ones can be grumpy people! It’s really tough to accept care from your child. And there are a lot of emotions involved.”
Step Four: Apathy
“And then apathy sets in, where it’s taken a step further. “I can’t be bothered doing this for them.””
Rita says that while she and many others have experienced compassion fatigue, there are steps carers can take to make life better for themselves.
Self-Care Musts for Carers
“The best tip you can give someone, is have a support network,” says Rita. “A lot of people don’t know the help that’s out there.”
Rita says a support network is vital for carers. It’s often better to talk about your frustrations with someone outside the family, and support networks can share knowledge and tip you off on help that’s available for you.
“Don’t make it so your whole life is just caring for that person,” says Rita. “You need to have some outside interest.”
Ask for Help
“You don’t have to do everything yourself. Outsource something. You deserve some help.”
Whether that’s Meals on Wheels, a cleaner, a community group or family help, find ways to ease your load. Your support network can help you find this.
“And the fourth thing is have a break from it. Respite is really important. You need to take a break before you break.”
Respite helps you relax, deal with emotions, and possibly even have fun. It could be as short as a few hours, but it’s also important to take longer breaks, so plan ahead to make sure respite care will be available. There are also emergency respite options.
It seems that some simple steps can really support carers. Being aware of compassion fatigue, reaching out to others, enjoying another interest, getting help where you need it, and taking regular breaks are all aspects of self-care. It’s important for carers, and for their loved ones.
Here are some helpful sites: