If you’re providing care for someone close to you, it's easy to forget that you need care too. But you need help and support to keep on in your caring role.
Who are carers?
Carers are people who provide care for someone close to them (eg, a friend or whānau member) who needs help with everyday living because of a disability, health condition, illness or injury.
Caring plays a crucial role in society as it allows people to live and participate in their communities. It also helps reduce dependence on the health and aged care systems. Carers make a significant contribution to the quality of life of the person they care for.
Caring situations can be different for everybody. For example, you could be caring for a disabled child, supporting a friend with a mental health condition, looking after an elderly family member or caring for a sick partner.
The care you give could be needed suddenly due to unforeseen circumstances such as an accident, or it could develop gradually over time, eg, if you have an ageing parent or grandparent who needs increased support.
You may be caring for someone in your own home or outside of your home, and it may be part or full-time. The care may be required short-term or long-term and it can vary in the degree of difficulty and/or amount of time needed to care for the person.
Demand for carers is growing because people are living longer, more people have multiple long-term health conditions, and more people are living at home as opposed to going into institutional care.
According to the Ministry of Social Development:
- Nearly two-thirds of carers are employed outside of their caring role (63% in full-time or part-time employment).
- Carers span all ethnic backgrounds, with the majority being European and Māori (European 70%, Maori 15%, Pacific 6%, other 2%).
- The value of unpaid family care is about $10.8 billion per annum (2013). The value is expected to have increased since 2013.
- Nearly one in 10 carers are 15–24 years of age.
- The carer population is older than the New Zealand population (20% of carers are over 65 years, compared to 15% of all New Zealanders).
- Carers are nearly twice as likely to be female (63% female).
- About 1 in 5 carers live rurally (17% live in a rural settlement or other rural location).
Carers need care too
The role of a carer is often hidden in families/whānau and communities partly because many people consider it to be something that you just do.
While caring for a loved one can be immensely rewarding, it can also be challenging. It's important that you take good care of yourself and get support.
Take time out
You need time out or a break from your responsibilities as carer. This could be a few minutes snatched here and there during the day, an hour or two each week, or a longer planned break, such as fomral respite care. The time out can be to do anything that makes you feel energised, refreshed and ready to step back into your caring role.
Ask for help
It can be easy for carers to underestimate their own needs and not do anything about them, or simply not know where to turn for help.
Seeking help early and using the support services available helps you to continue caring for your family/whānau member for longer. It is best not to wait until you are desperate or exhausted before you ask for help or an outside person or agency has to intervene because your situation has got to crisis point.
It’s important that you don’t try to manage alone. You are entitled to help from health professionals and social services (see the list below). Family, friends and neighbours may offer to help, so take up their offers. Think of ways to let them help with caring and explain exactly what you would like them to do.
Look after yourself
It is important that you stay physically and emotionally healthy.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet and if you drink alcohol, stick to the recommended guidelines.
- Keep in touch with family/whānau and friends. You deserve and need a social life outside your carer role.
- Take time out to maintain your interests and hobbies. You have a right to follow your own interests outside of the caring role, and it is important that you do so.
- Find ways to relax. Some people find that time spent in prayer, meditation, self-reflection or counselling can help boost morale.
- Keep moving. Walking is an excellent stress reliever and also calming for a person with dementia.
- Try to get enough rest. If your sleep is disturbed at night, take opportunities to sleep whenever you can.
Get help and support
There is practical help available for people who care for and support family/whānau members or friends with a physical or mental health condition, disability, injury or illness. A guide for carers – He aratohu mā ngā kaitiaki includes information on services and support available for carers including:
- financial help
- transport and travel
- assessing needs
- help at home
- children with special education needs
- balancing your caring role with work and study
- taking care of yourself
- contacts in time of mental health crisis
- help with managing bladder or bowel control
- making and resolving complaints.
Other support and resources
Carers New Zealand provides a hub for ideas, guidance, learning and support. They also have a Facebook page.
Care Matters provides online resources, face-to-face workshop information and care planning.
Mycare helps find respite care for carers.
Information for carers Ministry of Social Development, NZ
Carer support Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
Carers in New Zealand Age Concern NZ
COVID-19: Information for family, whānau and āiga carers Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
The New Zealand carers' strategy Ministry of Social Development, NZ
Mahi aroha – Carers’ strategy action plan 2019–2023 Ministry of Social Development and NZ Carers Alliance