Respite care is good for carers and their loved ones13 min read
Becoming the primary carer for someone you love can be both a privilege and a challenge.
Helping with personal care such as showering and dressing; keeping track of their medication; managing meals and other household duties; taking them to medical appointments, and navigating the health and aged care systems: these are just some of the many duties that can exhaust the primary carer.
Yet there is usually no question in their mind that they should be the one to take care of everything.
“Beryl’s 94 and I’m 93. We were born in the same midwife’s house in Manjimup, six months apart. Even after 70-odd years of marriage, we're just as close as when we met,” says Brightwater At Home client John Cooper.
John has been the primary carer for his wife Beryl at their Eden Hill home since she had major surgery a few years ago.
“She’s always been good at looking after us but since she got ill, she hasn't been doing so well. She’s pretty fragile and needs a walker, even around the home. Whereas I’m still pretty good although I must admit I do get a bit tired towards the end of the day.”
Caring for the carer
“A caring role can be demanding and quite draining,” acknowledges Clare Little, Engagement Coordinator for Brightwater At Home. “Often the carer or family members will get to the stage where they’re saying, ‘I am really stressed. I need some downtime.’ And that’s where we can help.”
Home care can provide a range of home-based services that support health and happiness. This includes help around the house, transport and shopping assistance, specialist health care and social activities.
It also includes respite care, which is what John and Beryl now receive.
“Brightwater would send someone out as social support for Beryl for a couple of hours on Saturdays while I went to football, and also on Thursdays, when I go out and have lunch with some golf cronies that I've known for years,” says John.
Clare says having a break from daily responsibilities can be restorative for carers, and beneficial for their loved ones.
“This is when carers get to have some time for themselves, to recharge their batteries so they can return to caring for their loved one,” she says.
What it is and how it helps
Respite care simply means that somebody else takes care of your loved one for a short period, leaving you free to do what you need, or want, to do. It might be attending to your own medical needs or going out with friends, as John Cooper does when a support worker comes to look after his wife, Beryl.
“Respite is quite broad - it can be someone coming into the home to spend time with the client while the carer goes out for a haircut or to a doctor's appointment,” says Brightwater’s Clare Little. “If the carer wants to stay home, our support worker can take the client to do something they want to do like having a coffee, or sitting somewhere playing a game of chess. It’s about meeting the needs of both people.”
Respite can range from a few hours at a time in the home or on a social outing, to overnight and longer respite care in a residential setting. There are also providers who cater for emergency respite situations, such as when a primary carer has to go into hospital unexpectedly.
Brightwater At Home only provides daytime respite services
A respite team is carefully chosen and trained to spend time with clients in their own home, taking part in meaningful activities, or to take them on short outings to places of their choosing, such as a local shopping centre or cafe. The arrangements are centred, as much as possible, around the client’s needs and preferences, says Clare.
“For instance, if a man likes pottering in his shed, we try to send a support worker who can help him. Or if a client likes to cook, we try to match them with someone who might be able to cook with them,” she says.
Clare is careful to point out that the support workers who come in to provide respite should be thought of as a back-up not a replacement for the primary carers.
“It can be a bit daunting to have someone come into your home, especially for people who think, ‘I can still do things on my own - I don’t need this.’ So we suggest starting with small services - maybe half an hour at a time - to build the trust and confidence to know that it will be ok, and that the support workers are not coming in to take over your life,” she says.
What should I do to get respite care?
The Australian Government heavily subsidises the cost of home care including respite services, for anyone 65 years and older, or 50 years and older for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.
To begin receiving respite care, you will first need to find out if you are eligible for the government-funded service. This is determined through an assessment by the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT). To organise an assessment, you can contact My Aged Care on 1800 200 422 or contact Brightwater on 1300 223 968.
Once you have a funding package in place, you can arrange for a home care provider to come out and discuss what options are available to you. After you sign up with us, a coordinator will be appointed to arrange your services and start sending support workers to give you that much needed break. Clare Little recommends beginning the assessment process as soon as possible.
“If you have done the assessment and have the funding package in place, it usually takes about two weeks from the initial inquiry to begin receiving respite services. But if you haven’t completed that process, it can take up to 18 months to get a service in place,” she says.
John and Beryl have been receiving respite services for about two years, and there’s no doubt in John’s mind about how much they both gain from the support.
“It's something I look forward to. It’s quite uplifting,” says John. “Beryl does miss me when I go out but she wants me to go because she knows it will benefit me. And after I’ve been out, I’m always glad to come home - it’s just so nice. I reckon anyone that cares for someone else should get respite.”
For the Brightwater At Home team, there is great satisfaction in knowing they are helping people to remain independent and in their own home for as long as possible.
Clare Little echoes John’s sentiments that anyone who has the role of primary carer should consider accessing the range of respite services that are available to help them.
“Let us look after some of the things that you would normally do, so you can get that break and be a better carer, for longer. It’s what I love about my job - the different people you meet and the difference you can make for them.”