For the past nine years, Sheryl has supported her 91 year old mother-in-law Val to remain living in the family home following her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease with the help of both her husband and local respite service Carinya - run by aged care provider Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH).
Now, as Val’s condition deteriorates, Sheryl acknowledges more than ever the vital role local respite has played in helping her and her husband continue their caring role.
“I do all the cooking, washing and Val needs help with dressing,” Sheryl explains.
“It’s just very draining because we are constantly watching her and reminding her to do everyday things, making sure she doesn’t accidentally harm herself.
“Obviously as Val’s disease progresses, so do her needs, so things are getting harder, but while she’s at Carinya it takes a bit of pressure off.”
Val accesses respite through VMCH’s Carinya branch for two nights each week, giving both Sheryl and Rod some much needed ‘free time’ for other activities and appointments.
“Generally we would do just personal things - but we also like to go to the football so the overnight respite allows us to do that,” Sheryl explains.
“Of course it is an opportunity to catch up on the housework too!”
Despite experiencing a world of benefit from utilising respite services, before Carinya, Sheryl and her husband admit they had no idea the service existed.
“We honestly didn’t know about it,” she says.
“I remember I rang Dementia Australia to see what was around to help us out and what we could do to give Val a bit more variety in her days, and they were the ones who suggested Carinya.
“We started with a Sunday program, and progressed to the two days and as the dementia progressed we added in the overnights.
“It’s been great for Val to be going there for eight years, she would get on the bus and go on outings, do puzzles, play bingo and mini golf and exercise, and lunch was supplied… It has variety for her and I was happy with that.
“It has been very beneficial for all of us - Val had her own company, her own friends and we enjoyed a break and having time to do our own thing because caring is a 24/7 job.”
Carinya Coordinator, Lynette Alexander, says respite is an important service for carers and the people they care for, offering a much needed break.
“Respite care gives carers and family members the opportunity to recharge, take a short break and to attend to their own needs with the knowledge that their loved one is being cared for.
“Generally respite is accessed when people get to crunch time even though it is aimed at relieving the stress before they become overwhelmed and reach crisis point.”
She adds that there are often a lot of mixed feelings about respite when it is first accessed - noting many carers struggle with the idea of ‘letting go’.
“Carers feel very guilty initially and at times at their wits end,” says Lynette.
“But mostly, they feel sad that the person they knew and loved is not the same. They see themselves as ‘just a carer now’, not a husband, wife, mother, daughter or son.
“We support the carer with reassurance and acknowledge how they feel.
“Most often just a chat and a cuppa and letting them know it's normal to feel this way helps them to feel better. We also offer the opportunity to attend a carer support group to speak with others dealing with similar situations.”
Lynette says while every carer is different, the feelings of guilt don’t generally last long.
She adds that the most important thing about respite is that carers feel “refreshed” when they pick their loved one up and that they know they have been well supported and cared for.
Having accessed respite for eight years, Sheryl says she recommends people look into the support sooner rather than later, despite how people may feel about leaving their loved ones.
“We accessed respite before we reached breaking point and from our experience we would definitely encourage others to access it sooner rather than later,” Sheryl explains.
“In the beginning it can be hard - we found it hard sending her off and sometimes she didn’t want to go, but we used to tell her that it was fine if she didn’t want to go but she had to call the staff and tell them - which of course she never would! Then once she was there she had a great time.
“It’s important even if you feel guilt, that you recognise that it’s for their benefit as well as yours.
“I felt guilty at times - you really always have that element of guilt - but you know they are having a good time and you need to acknowledge that you need this time for yourself too otherwise you’ll end up in a situation that’s not good for your own health either.
“What I think is important is to find a place that is a good fit. We were lucky that we found a place that was really good for us.
“Each place is different so I would encourage other carers to look around and find somewhere they are happy with and make the most of respite.”
What benefits do you think you would get from accessing respite care? Tell us below in the comments.