Support services 'vital' to help carers through coronavirus pandemic

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Published Aug 04 2020

Article first published in The Courier

Unpaid carers who look after ill, disabled or frail family members have been suffering increased stress during the coronavirus pandemic, a national survey has shown.

But many carers are benefiting from support provided through the new Carer Gateway initiative that provides access to services and information online.

Ballarat resident Bill Faulkhead cares for his wife Julia who suffers from dementia. He said talking to his Carer Gateway case manager, having the opportunity to meet and talk to other carers and organise respite was 'vital' support.

"You have your own family members around you, but Carer Gateway case managers are there to help you," Mr Faulkhead said. "They look at things in a more neutral way to help everyone, both the carer and the patient and they give good advice."

Mr Faulkhead has been caring for Julia since she was diagnosed with dementia three years ago. He said he sought help in November last year after realising the need for both he and his wife to talk to other people and receive external support.

It took me quite a while to realise that I had to find some outside help.
Bill Faulkhead, carer

Mr Faulkhead said he was enjoying outings organised through Carer Gateway and Ballarat Health Services, where he and Julia could meet others and share new experiences.

Outings and face-to-face meetings have been halted due to COVID-19, but Mr Faulkhead has continued to talk to his case manager on the phone throughout the pandemic and is now working to organise respite care.

"By talking to my case manager we work out the day to day changes. Julia doesn't want to eat at night time anymore because by the afternoon she is ready for bed," he said. "We now have the main meal at lunch time and that is by talking to people and working through. "By sharing that with them they can share that with other people as well."

Carer Gateway was launched in April and has provided improved access to services during COVID-19.

Carer Gateway state manager Vicki Down said having support and information online was important to ensure carers could access help during the pandemic. "These online services are providing vital access to regional and rural carers," she said. "These groups are most at risk of COVID-19 so there's been additional pressure put on carers to ensure that the people they care for are protected as much as possible from the virus."

Support available includes counselling for carers, carer coaching to learn ways to improve stress management and well-being, peer support by connecting with other carers, financial support for respite or equipment, emergency respite and support planning.

Carer Gateway has supported 219 carers in Ballarat since April.

At the time of its launch, Ms Down said anxiety was the biggest driver of traffic to Australian carer websites. "Carers have told us they only seek support when they are in crisis and struggling to cope - we're trying to change this," she said. "Everyone's journey is different. Some carers may want to learn strategies to help them in their role as carers, while others may be looking at strategies to improve their health and well-being."

Mr Faulkhead said his advice to other carers was to take advantage of the resources and support available.

"It took me quite a while to realise that I had to find some outside help," he said. "Don't do it on your own, talk to other people... You are not only supporting yourself, you are also supporting the person you are looking after, because you want to give them the best opportunities they have got."

Carer Gateway in Victoria is provided by a consortia led by Merri Health including Ballarat Health Services.

Visit or phone 1800 422 737 8am to 5pm weekdays to access support.

Article: Rochelle Kirkham
Picture: Lachlan Bence