A carer provides unpaid care and support to a person who needs this assistance because of a disease such as cancer, a disability, mental illness or ageing. Anyone can be a carer, regardless of your age, sex, sexuality, profession or cultural background.
You may be a family member, friend or neighbour. You might not even see yourself as a carer, rather that you are simply helping out a person in need or that you are providing care as a natural extension of your relationship.
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Every carer is different
For some, becoming a carer can be sudden; for others, it’s a gradual process. However it happens, it may take some time to adjust to the role. Some carers are very willing to accept the increased responsibilities; others may be reluctant but feel pressured into accepting the role out of a sense of duty.
You may have to balance caring with other demands such as work, family or study. You may provide care for a short time or over months or years. Care may be needed for a few hours a week or on a 24-hour basis, and the level of care you provide may change over time. Sometimes a carer lives a long way from the person they are helping and coordinates care by phone, email or the internet.
Caring can be more than a one-person job. Family and friends are often willing to help, but don’t know how – consider telling them what you need help with. You can also access a range of support services.
Recognition of carers in Australia
About 12% of Australians are unpaid family carers who provide care to someone with a disability or illness. These carers make a valuable contribution to the community.
The Carer Recognition Act 2010 (Commonwealth) states that carers should have:
- recognition and respect
- access to appropriate information that makes it easier to get support
- economic security and the opportunity to do paid work
- access to appropriate services
- the skills to do their role and the opportunity to have formal education and training
- improved wellbeing and health, and the capacity to participate in community life.
Each state and territory government has also passed their own Acts and policies.
What carers do
The caring role varies depending on the situation and usually changes over time. It often involves a wide range of tasks and sometimes means that you need to learn a new range of skills.
- Advocate for the person with cancer
- Monitor and manage symptoms and treatment side effects
- Keep records of appointments, test results and treatments
- Navigate the health care system
- Manage medicines
- Work with the health care team
- Look after the home, ensuring it is kept clean, safe and well maintained
- Manage family responsibilities, such as care of children or parents
- Provide transport to treatment
- Help with personal care
- Encourage exercise
- Prepare meals
- Do shopping
- Offer companionship
- Be an active non-judgemental listener
- Provide encouragement, comfort and understanding
- Access professional support if needed
- Communicate and negotiate with family and friends
- Talk to the person about planning ahead
- Help the person see a lawyer to make legal arrangements for the future, such as wills and advance care directives
- Arrange for the person to get professional advice to help them manage the financial impact of cancer