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National Carers Week highlights the selfless work of Australia's carers

The 29th National Carers Week, running from 10 - 16 October, started on Sunday with celebrations to thank 2.65 million carers around Australia who provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend.

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This year's National Carers Week puts the focus on carers, who provided an estimated 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care in 2020. [Source: Shutterstock]

This year's theme for National Carers Week is 'Millions of Reasons to Care', which aims to put the spotlight onto carers and their difficult, selfless work.

Carers Australia says that this awareness week is more important than ever, as carers in Australia are experiencing a significant amount of stress in their caring responsibilities due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Carers Australia, Liz Callaghan, says, "Anyone at any time can become a carer and National Carers Week is a time to raise awareness among all Australians of the enormous contribution carers make to our nation.

"Carers have been doing a tremendous job throughout this difficult time, not only maintaining their caring roles in trying circumstances, but often going above and beyond to ensure the safety of those they care for."

Eleven percent of the country are unpaid carers and were estimated to provide 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care in 2020, which is over 42 million hours every week. The value of that care is estimated at $78 billion or $1.5 billion each week. Over 772,000 Australians are caring for someone aged 65 and over living in the community.

Minister for Families and Social Services, Anne Ruston, thanks unpaid carers for their contribution to Australia.

"Carers work quietly and lovingly without fanfare. They make an incredible contribution to the lives of many, as well as our broader communities," says Minister Ruston.

"No two caring responsibilities are the same and we simply wouldn’t be the country we are without them.

"It is important to check in on those carers around you and ensure they are also taking care of themselves."

Minister for Aged Care Services and Senior Australians, Richard Colbeck, also thanks carers for their commitment and support to protecting and assisting senior and vulnerable Australians, which should not be "underestimated".

"These are the unsung heroes making an enormous difference in the lives of others," says Minister Colbeck.

"National Carers Week offers an opportunity to raise awareness about the integral work carers do for many Australians and how they make an important economic contribution to the community as well."

Minister Colbeck adds that carer support has been improved upon by the Government in their $17.7 billion response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

An investment of $798.3 million will go towards increased support for carers and $441.4 million in funding for Flexible and Centre Based Respite to support 8,400 carers a year from 1 January 2022.

Additionally, carers of older people with dementia have been reinforced with an expansion of care models, which will increase access to carer education during the early stages of a dementia diagnosis.

The National Dementia Support Program (NDSP) is also receiving a funding boost to provide early support to people living with dementia and their carers. It is hoped this will provide 30,000 people with more counselling services, education sessions, support groups, and peer mentoring that includes coaching, advice, and support for carers.

Minister Colbeck says, "Strengthening the support available will improve carer wellbeing, maintain the care relationship and avoid crises that may jeopardise the relationship between the carer and those in need."

Stepping up for your older loved ones

This National Carers Week, Carers Australia is highlighting some of the stories of carers who have stepped up and become a carer for a loved one. 

Rita Merienne from the ACT would have been looking to slow down in life entering her 50's, but ended up entering a very overwhelming period in her life.

Her mother passed away in 2006, leaving her father, Hans, without anyone to assist him. In his 80's, Hans was already struggling to care for himself, resulting in his children having to step up and take on caring responsibilities for him.

Rita was based in Canberra while sharing her caring duties with her sisters, Marilyn and Yvonne. Rita was a support carer for Marilyn, who was the main carer for their father in Queensland. She would check in with Marilyn daily to ease the emotional strain of caring for their father.

"Being interstate, the best thing I could do for my father and sister was to call them everyday. My father was slowly losing his independence which I knew was really difficult for him. He was grieving his wife but also the person he was previously," explains Rita.

"Marilyn was a great support to him, but it came to a point where our father actually decided moving into an aged care home was the best decision."

Six years later, in 2012, Marilyn suddenly passed away, leaving Rita and Yvonne to pick up the caring duties for their father.

Rita says following Marilyn's passing, her father was isolated from them as he was living in Tweed Heads. While she travelled monthly to see her father and take him to medical appointments, his condition started to deteriorate and his care needs became more demanding, making it impossible to care from afar.

She ended up moving her father to an aged care home in Canberra so she could better support him. The responsibility meant her own work and personal life took a hit, particularly her mental health after her husband had a sudden heart attack.

"By this point in time I couldn't give anyone around me my best. I was either thinking about work, my own family or whether my father was ok," says Rita.

"I cried every day for a month as I juggled my husband’s health battles with caring for my dad. I didn’t know where to turn for help."

Rita eventually sought professional support to cope with her caring responsibilities. This support helped her realise that she didn't need to do it all, and she began to set boundaries in areas of her life, which improved her relationship with her father.

She no longer held resentment for their time spent together and made it a weekly routine to take him out for coffee and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

Hans passed away in 2013 at the age of 87 after suffering a heart attack. Following this, Rita decided to have a complete change of career and started her own business, Aged Care With Ease. Rita now supports other families in need who are experiencing similar difficulties to those that she faced.

"The biggest issue for a carer is that you don’t know what you don’t know. There’s such a weight on your shoulders to constantly give, but the emotional toll is extremely tough," explains Rita.

"You need to take a break before you burn out. The main thing to realise is that you can help enrich people’s lives, but you can do it without the obligation of guilt."

To find out more about the awareness week or how to show your appreciation for the 2.65 million carers around Australia, visit the National Carers Week website.

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