Handle with care

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Assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu


By Kylie Carberry.

August 05, 2007 12:00am

Article from: The Daily Telegraph

WHEN you're caring for someone, don't forget to spread a little care your own way - it's the best thing you can do for your loved one.
One in eight Australians are carers, according to Carers Australia, and at some point in our lives many of us will take on this role. You could be providing care and support for a parent, partner, child or friend who is aged or who has a chronic mental or physical disability.

While the task can be rewarding, the downside is that due to the effort and time needed to give the care, your own health suffers as a result. A survey carried out by Carers Australia showed that only 10 per cent of carers considered their health to be "excellent" and 30 per cent said they put off seeking health advice because of their role.

Ben Chodziesner, president of Carers Australia, says it's not only important for your own sake to stay well, but also for the person you are caring for. After all, who will care for them if you fall ill?

Mind your mental health

A carer's mental health can often be hit hard. Eighty-five per cent of respondents in the Carers Australia survey said their mental health had been affected for the worse since becoming a carer. A recent SANE Australia survey found that 56 per cent of carers reported that their physical and mental health had suffered as a result of their role.

Chodziesner, who was the carer of his wife, who had dementia, says one of the prime ways to offset this is having empathetic, supportive people with whom you can talk to about the difficult aspects of caring.

For Wollongong's Karen Adam, 37, who is the carer of her eight-year-old profoundly disabled son, her support system is members of organised support groups. "The people here completely understand my situation and take away the feelings of isolation that so often arise," says Adam.

Because members share their experiences, Chodziesner says support groups offer the added benefit of showing you different ways to tackle your carer's role.

Online support groups are an option too. Jenna, 22, from Sydney, cares for her partner who has depression and is a member of an online group. She adds that having a close circle of friends to whom she can talk to about anything has been invaluable.

Chodziesner says at times carers can feel as though they're drowning in a sea of challenges. When this happens, you shouldn't hesitate to take advantage of the counselling services on offer, such as those through Carers Australia and SANE Australia. These organisations can also put you in touch with a relevant support group.

Take time out

Part of maintaining mental wellness is having someone step into your carer's shoes while you take some time out, be it a local organisation, a family member or a friend.

You may have other commitments to attend to during that break. However, it's important to employ some of it just for you - spend time with friends, pursue your hobbies, zone out in the park. Do things that will nourish your soul.

Chodziesner says he realised the importance of this the first time he attended a weekend away with a carer's group. "I was hoarse from talking after that first night - because I hadn't socialised for so long, it was like taking the cork off a bottle of champagne. It made me realise how isolated I'd become and that I needed to make use of respite."

Adam says initially she felt guilty using respite organisations and the home help they offer. However, when misery and exhaustion quickly overcame her, she realised she could only continue to be a dedicated carer, not only to her son but to the rest of her family, by using that help.

Nurture nutritional needs

Eating right is essential to stay healthy, but Adam Walsh, associate lecturer at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University in Victoria, says many carers neglect their own nutritional needs due to limited time and being too tired to cook at the end of the day.

However, if you keep it simple, eating well is still possible. "Beginning with healthy eating principles such as low saturated fat intake, low-fat cooking methods (such as grilling) and no added salt, forms the base from which to expand," says Walsh. "Including a variety of foods from all food groups will ensure nutritional adequacy. The key is to remember that no one food is essential."

Walsh says buying in bulk and storing food where possible, pre-preparing meals for thawing or reheating later, and shopping at markets where possible, are all ways to cut cost and time when it comes to meal preparation.

If the person you are caring for has special dietary needs, you can still work this into your daily routine. Cook the same meal for everyone, but modify the meals at the end of preparation, says Walsh. For example, add mono or polyunsaturated fats to cater for increased energy needs, or blend the food to assist swallowing. Or leave out the seasoning at the start of preparation - and just add salt and spices to your own meal.

When time is tight, Walsh says snacks assume more importance. For this he says, "It doesn't get much easier than fruit - prepackaged, fresh, cheap when in season and environmentally friendly." Also opt for canned or packaged fruit in natural juice or a handful of nuts.

Get physical

The importance of exercise is undeniable, and as a busy carer Walsh says one of the best strategies to ensure you manage some regularly is to timetable it in.

"Carers will often have a schedule for particular days. Adding an activity to the schedule helps in actually engaging in it."

If you're keen to participate in organised sport, Walsh says it might be an option to do so during that regular time out. You might also decide to involve the care receiver in the activity; it can benefit them too, says Walsh.

"For example, taking a frail or disabled person to the local pool can benefit both the carer and the care receiver, as can taking advantage of the weather and walking through local parks."

Being housebound has exercise limitations, but Walsh says taking advantage of rest periods and engaging in home exercise is a useful strategy.

But because home-based exercise often leads to boredom due to the static environment, it's vital to mix it up with things like dvd hire - "Pilates, yoga, aerobics and step classes are all a possibility in your own lounge room," says Walsh - or consider exercise equipment hire. The internet is an option too, with free yoga classes offered at www.yogatoday.com

Carer's counsel

To keep yourself healthy, Carers Australia advises:

Eating regular meals.

Making time for exercise.

Getting adequate sleep - being tired can add to the stress of being a carer.

Watching your back. If you need to lift the person you are caring for, ask for advice on the safest way to lift.

Talking to your GP about your caring role and the demands it makes on you.

Carer's contacts:

The Commonwealth Carer Respite Centre, 1800 059 059

Carers NSW, 1800 242 636, www.carersnsw.asn.au

Carers Australia, www.carersaustralia.com.au

Young Carers, www.youngcarers.net.au, www.reachout.com.au

Working CarersSupport Gateway, www.workingcarers.org.au

SANE Australia, 1800 187 263, www.sane.org


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