Care for carers by Jean Kittson

Jean Kittson

Article by 

Jean Kittson

Australian performer, writer and comedian, Jean Kittson shares her top tips for carers who need to make self-care a priority

On commercial aircraft, among the cheerful safety instructions from the flight attendants is the advice that during any unwelcome incidents an oxygen mask will fall from the roof in front of your face. If you are travelling with children, you must put your own mask on first, then wrestle their masks onto the young ones. Your instinct may be for others first. Your children may be traumatised by your priorities. But it is sensible. If you pass out, you will be of no assistance to others at all.

Likewise, being a carer. If you’re frazzled by your responsibilities and you neglect your diet and your appearance and your immediate family and your friends (never mind your job if you are working), your self-esteem will suffer and your health will suffer and your personal family will suffer your absence. And the quality of the care you are giving will suffer, especially if you feel isolated and overwhelmed by demands on your time and love and sanity. This can breed resentment and impatience, and this will be noticed. Your rep will go from “She’s an angel” to “She’s a crazy woman.”

So, look after yourself. Make time stretch to your medical and dental and hair appointments. Make that phone call to a friend. You can hire a friend for your loved ones through the Community Visitors Scheme. Do not be the disturbed loner muttering to herself while driving her loved ones to their next medical, dentist or hair appointment.

Try to create a support network for yourself. One or more friends who will pick up when you call. Someone who will do most of the talking. Someone who knows what it is like to be a carer is even better. Someone who knows that what you and your loved ones are going through is finite. If possible, have a wingman or wingwoman in case something happens to sideline or delay you. Someone who can shop for you, perhaps, or do the school run, or feed your cat/ dog/ children in an emergency.

Where available, keep your family in the loop. Tell them how you are feeling and coping. Interpersonal relationships can be extremely challenging when a loved one is ageing or dying. You will see people’s true colours, including your own, but remember that these colours are being shown through the filter of fear and grief and pain, and sometimes greed and anger and pain. Go easy on how you judge others and yourself. These others may include your siblings, even the one who married a hostage taker and can’t leave the house, or the one who selfishly moved to London or Fez or Baffin Island or a tax shelter.

Because you may be thinking to yourself, why am I doing all this when my siblings could be helping. Hey, family! How come your job can’t do without you when my job can do without me? This is about life and death, not about whether you have a window next month/ year/ decade.

The Bottom Line, dear siblings and aunties and uncles, is that when a family supports their elder through health ‘events’ and helps them to make their own decisions, the elder will be in a lot better shape physically and mentally than one whose family doesn’t. They should not be left to go ten rounds with the healthcare system alone. Ditto with managing their commercial care providers. These providers are not of equal quality or suitability and your elders may need a second opinion, which will be yours.

You may be shouting this aloud while driving to another specialist or podiatrist or, most challenging of all, your elder’s bank. That is why those people are staring at you at the lights. Do not simmer.

Simmering causes resentment which causes emotional rust. You are not a martyr. You are someone who cares and who is doing something about it.

So, don’t be isolated and do not let your thoughts board the guilt-trip bus. It is likely going to be hard, but it all has meaning and almost anything you do is better than nothing. So many of our elders have nothing and no-one and are dumped and left to the random ‘mercy’ of the aged care system. (Which gives a wider meaning to ‘locked-in syndrome’). I hope that makes you feel better.

If you need advice and reassurance – and you deserve it – ask your GP or other care provider where you can find support.

Carers Australia has an advisory and counselling service: 1800 242 636.

If your loved one has dementia, call the National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500.

If you are really feeling overwhelmed or anxious or depressed, call Lifeline: 13 11 14.

Organise emergency respite by calling the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre: 1800 052 222 business hours, 1800 059 059 after hours.

You may have real life problems apart from your spouses/ partners/ children/ employers using a photo of you as a screen saver to remember what you look like.

For example, there are often financial hardships that come with caring. You may have to leave work for a time, whether you are a first responder or a fulltime carer. You may have to pay costs until packages kick in. Or you may not be able to work at all if your job requires your actual presence and your loved one’s care needs are high.

You may be entitled to financial help, and respite and other forms of emotional and practical support.

Carer Gateway is your first port of call for any information, support, guidance, coaching, respite and help with your finances.

It is set up by the Australian Government to provide carers with a single point to get the information they need.

‘Anyone who is providing practical or emotional support to someone with a disability, chronic or life-limiting illness, mental ill health, who is frail or aged or has alcohol or other drug dependence, is eligible for support through Carer Gateway and it’s free’.

Call them on 1800 422 737

There is so much support for you, have a chat to Carer Gateway.

If you are caring for someone who is a veteran or war widow or widower, the DVA also provides assistance (1800 555 254 or dva.gov.au).

Right. Now you are in a positive state of mind, this is a good time to prepare an If It All Goes To Shit Kit. Because life sometimes leaves a skateboard in your path when you are struggling with bags of shopping and not paying attention.

This will help you, yes you, in an emergency.

Have spare keys for your loved one’s home (with a neighbour would be sensible, or under the mat, no one looks there, too obvious. For extra security, tape the key to the mat. No one flips a mat right over).

Make a list of emergency numbers: doctors, care providers, accountants, lawyers, religious or spiritual people, other VIPs in your elder’s life: hairdresser, taxi, Domino’s. Keep them in the One Notebook which will be with you or nearby at all times.

Speaking of numbers, please keep a record of their PIN and all their usernames and passwords, while remaining alert to the security of this information.

Keep all their important and certified papers in one place. Actually, make two or three copies. I have mentioned having a wingperson. Give a copy of these papers to your wingperson. Leave another copy with a trusted family member where possible. (If you have a friend who is a hoarder, give them a copy also. At any moment they won’t know specifically where the copy is, but they will know it is around there somewhere).These papers should include up-to-date medical records, lists of medications, birth certificates (they may be carved into a stone tablet holding the door open), marriage, divorce, second marriage and divorce again certificates, bank accounts, credit cards, pension, super (I do hope you trust your wingperson), passport, power of attorney, enduring power of attorney, guardianship, house title, and retirement village agreement, for starters. Yes, this isn’t a kitbag, this is a sturdy, old-fashioned sea-travelling trunk. You may wonder whether you will need a ute. Fair enough. Bureaucracy is the first draft of history. Your elder has spent decades assembling the collection; you may have to collect them in ten minutes.

PS: These important papers should include papers on where you put the papers and where you put the keys and where you put the emergency numbers, because when it all goes to shit, you won’t remember. In fact, make a list of where everything is and what everything is. Give this list to your wingperson and they can tell you where everything is when you call. Should your wingperson be out working on a second marriage, and your trusted family member is touring Bulgarian wineries, copy the details into your One Notebook.

If you cannot remember anything or forgot to prepare this kit earlier, at least have the number for a 24-hour locksmith, so that someone can get in and make sure your loved one is okay.

Or just call 000 and ask for the police, definitely a last resort.

So, start gathering important documents and legal paperwork.

Keep multiple authorised copies.

Keep across important people in your elders’ lives, professional and personal. Have their phone numbers and record the times for their appointments.

Most importantly, be as prepared as possible, be kind to yourself, you are awesome. Remember, there are lots of people who want to support you. Carer Gateway for one and did I mention Uber Eats?

Jean Kittson AM is an Australian performer, writer and comedian in theatre and print, on radio and television. Read more of Jean Kittson’s articles for Australian Carers Guide here.

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In Need of Support?

Carer Gateway is an Australian Government program providing free services and support for carers. Call Carer Gateway for support and access to services, Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm local time.

Assistance with accessing emergency respite is available any time, 24/7.

1800 422 737 

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