What is it
A carer is a person who assists people in a variety of ways such as taking care of someone who is not able to care for themselves, has difficulty with some tasks or can no longer meet their own care needs. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 2.7 million Australians classify as informal carers and over 579,700 of these are aged 65 years and over. People being cared for may be elderly and frail, have dementia or other memory problems, suffering a mental illness or a health-related illness or disease, have an intellectual disability or physical disability. Carers can be a family member or unrelated (e.g. a friend or neighbour). Caring can be a 24 hour process for family members with complex needs or just assisting with some tasks like preparing meals, housework or going to appointments.
What does it include
Being a carer can be very rewarding as well as physically and emotionally challenging at times. Adjusting to the carer role can sometimes be difficult, particularly when a role changes suddenly (e.g from husband or wife to also carer) and there is not always time to prepare. The caring process can also change over time and the relationship with the person being cared for can also change. Some carers report positive changes, however some carers can become stressed and overwhelmed with their caring responsibilities and experience a range of different emotions such resentment, fear, anger, stress, anxiety, guilt, grief and distress. Carers may also experience difficulties such as such as grief and loss associated with the person they are now caring for, acceptance of the carer role and transition to carer, loneliness and isolation, depression and anxiety, health problems or physical injury, impact to work-life or education, financial problems, a loss of time for themselves, and becoming overwhelmed with responsibility. There may also be difficulties transitioning back to the old role when the caring role ends. These difficulties can be signs of Caregiving Burden.
How can a psychologist help
Like the people they care for, it is just as important for carers to take care of themselves. This may also include carers taking a break from the carer role from time to time to consider their own health and needs. This can be referred to as ‘Carer Respite’. Psychological interventions can assist carers with support and coping strategies to help them adjust to the carer role, provide an outlet to process thoughts and feelings associated with caregiving, and reduce caregiving burden through buffering stress, enlisting other supports, and balancing caregiving with taking care of their own needs, maintaining hobbies and interests and self-care.
Aneshensel, C. S., Pearlin, L. I., Mullan, J. T., Zarit, S. H., & Whitlatch, C. J. (1995). Profiles in caregiving: The unexpected career. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/D9BD84DBA2528FC9CA257C21000E4FC5?opendocument
Pearlin, L. I., Mullan, J. T., Semple, S. J., & Skaff, M. M. (1990). Caregiving and the stress process: An overview of concepts and their measures. The Gerontologist, 30, 583–594.
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