Whether you identify as a “carer”, or you just think of yourself as a good family member or friend, caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but let’s face it – it can be hard. Really hard. It can also be extremely stressful. In Australia, there are 2.65 million unpaid carers who are depended on by elderly parents or loved ones. That’s a lot of people who have the potential to be overwhelmed by the caring role. So we’ve got 10 tips to help manage as a carer. This is by no means an exhaustive list and they might not be right for everyone. It takes into consideration a wide variety of care needs and situations. They won’t be perfect, but we hope they help.
1. Know your parents’ wishes and involve them in the process
It’s their life, so knowing your parents wishes and boundaries can both help you support them in living it and help ease the stress of being a carer. Having conversations early on about what they want and don’t want at least takes the guess work out of it for you. However it can also make you feel guilty if you’re not carrying out their exact wishes. Remember – you’re doing the best you can. Have regular conversations with your parents about how their going and how they’re needs are changing. Try and express your needs as well. Keep in mind that they may be scared or overwhelmed at the thought of needing more help, so being patient and calm can do wonders for your conversation and relationship.
2. Talk with someone or listen to how others have done it
Sometimes, all we need to relieve stress is for us to have someone to listen to our struggles and probably someone we can get more tips to help manage as a carer. Consider talking to professional counselors, other carers, your family, or friends. The key is having a good support system. Sometimes the carer journey can be a lonely one. There are several support groups you can access in person or online. One of our favourites is the Facebook group Caring for elderly parents. If you don’t feel like talking but just want to hear what others have gone through, there are many podcasts out there. We like listening to The Forgettable Half Hour, by one of contributors Megan van Genderen and her husband Jason. But these are just a few examples. There are many more out there.
3. Have the right paperwork
Do you have authority to act on your parent’s behalf? There are different levels of authority you can be given depending on your parent’s needs and wishes. Some institutions like Government departments and financial institutions will enable your parent to nominate a person to liaise on their behalf and have different levels of access. Even though my Mum has capacity, English isn’t her first language so I’m her representative with My Aged Care and her home services provider. She can still deal with them directly, but I’m also allowed to deal with them if required. If you need to act on your parent’s behalf and they don’t have capacity, you’ll need an Enduring Power of Attorney for financial and legal matters, and an Enduring Guardianship for health and lifestyle matters. One of the other key documents that can help reduce stress is an Advance Care Directive. We plan on writing articles on all these documents, and we’ll update this article when we do. Thankfully Karen Callaghan has got Advance Care Directives covered in this Carers’ Circle article.
4. Write out your parent’s care plan and routine
Depending on the level of care your parent needs, writing out a care plan and routine can be helpful. If your parent is generally self sufficient, writing out a routine with their medications, or weekly activities can be helpful for them to remain organised and connected. If your parent has higher care needs, by writing out your care plan and daily routine you can be clear on what you need to do and it also helps other manage your parent’s care if required. It’s best to work on this care plan with your parent if they are able, or with their GP or care support workers.
5. Access support early or get respite care
Many carers think that they have to do everything for their loved ones. Or they simply might not know what services are available to help. If you haven’t already, consider getting an ACAT or ACAS assessment for your parent as soon as possible. There are some things you need to be aware of before registering with My Aged Care which our contributor Coral Wilkinson covers in her series of articles on getting help in the home. If your parent is already receiving services and you need a break, consider getting respite care. Respite care is when you have a break and someone else takes care of the person you care for. Margaret Harrison outlines the different types of respite care and how you can access more formal residential respite care here. Lastly if you feel your parent may no longer safe at home, you may need to consider a move for them into residential care. An ACAT or ACAS assessment will be required and it can take time to find the right place, so think about this before it becomes a crisis.
6. Take care of yourself physically
It can be hard to put your health needs first, but it’s essential to both your long term wellbeing and the person you’re caring for.
Some of the basics are:
- Eating a wide variety of healthy foods (fruits and vegetables) and limiting your consumption of salt, sugar, and fat.
- Try and get 7-9 hours of sleep every day. This can be difficult we know, especially if you have to get up for your loved one at night. Consider napping when they nap if you can.
- Move for 30 minutes a day. Whether it’s being able to get away to the gym, or simply a walk, keep on moving.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, the best thing that you can do is to eventually quit.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol and taking drugs. These two can severely affect your physical and mental health and will make it harder for you to carry out your caring role.
7. Don’t neglect your own social needs
Never underestimate the power of taking a break. Try and spend time with your friends and keep at least some of your usual social activities. This is important to keep you mentally healthy. Ideally catch ups would be in person, but catching up with friends or family on the phone or online, can also help boost your wellbeing.
8. Speak to a counsellor
While talking to friends and family can help, sometimes you need a professional. A counsellor can help talk through your worries and provide more tips to help manage as a carer. There are so many ways where you can tap into their services, but be aware there can be lengthy waiting periods – so act early. You can get a mental health care plan which will pay for up to 10 appointments with mental health services through Medicare (available via referral from your GP. While the Carer Gateway has a free carer specific counselling service. Each weekday, from 8am to 6pm, its professional counsellors are available to talk through the concerns you have and how you feel about your carer role.
You can also visit:
Or look up local services to get counseling at your home or at a private clinic.
9. Try and share the caring role
While we might feel no one can care for our parent like we do, it’s important to be able to give others the opportunity to be involved if they will take it. While I had the main carer responsibilities for my Dad, my sisters would help if I delegated tasks to them. When it comes to my Mum, my sister has the main role and delegates tasks to us. If you have siblings, relatives or friends that can help you with the role, consider their strengths and interests so that you can best utilise them to provide appropriate care. The needs of your parents changes over time so it is also an advantage to be flexible when taking on this role. You can even share these tips to help manage as a carer!
Try and keep an open line of communication with your family and friends so that they will also know what you need and what help they can provide. Don’t be ashamed or too proud to ask for help. This is also where the care plan and routine from tip #4 can be helpful.
10. Learn to prioritise things and not sweat the small stuff
Being organized and planning ahead will definitely help you with managing your time as a carer, but don’t think you’re failing, being overwhelmed with tasks as a carer is pretty normal. In fact, being overwhelmed with tasks as an adult is pretty normal! It can be helpful to list all of the things that you need to do. This is where tip #4 might also help. If you have your parent’s routines and needs written down, you’ll be able to see how you can fit all your other tasks in. Be gentle with yourself. If you don’t get everything done – that’s OK. Who cares if the clothes haven’t been folded today? Concentrate on the big things and it will help reduce the overwhelm.
We’re working on expanding this list of tips and creating more articles, so if you have any tips that can help other carers, please let us know. We’d love to hear them. Sharing is caring!
Some useful links to support tips to help manage as a carer
Carer Gateway – this is the Government website set up specifically to help carers. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly a good start. This link is specifically for counselling services, but take a wider look around – https://counselling.carergateway.gov.au/
Relationships Australia has services to assist older people and their families to prevent and resolve family conflict, have difficult conversations, plan for the future (including medical, health, financial and living arrangements), improve communication skills, make decisions that protect the interests, rights and safety of family members and reduce the risk of elder abuse, including emotional and financial abuse – https://relationships.org.au/what-we-do/
Carers’ Circle article sharing the positive side of spending time with the elderly – Four benefits of companionship for seniors
Other links are included in the article above.