October 15-21 is National Carers Week in Australia. There are 2.65 million Australians who provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend living with illness or disability. This week is an opportunity to raise community awareness about caring roles and how to support carer wellbeing.
Parkinson’s disease affects not just those who are living with the disease, but the primary and secondary caregivers for spouses, parents or other loved ones. A Parkinson’s disease diagnosis, and all the care coordination that comes with it, can be very stressful. Many caregivers spend a large amount of their time providing care – in many ways, it may feel like a full-time job. But remember that prioritising your own health allows you to provide the best care for your loved one.
We spoke with Shake It Up ambassador Kristy Johnson about her experience caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s, and her advice for other carers and the communities around them.
National Carers Week is a time to recognise, celebrate and raise awareness about the Australians who provide care and support to a family member or friend. Why do you think this week is important?
It’s easy to overlook, but the carers need to be cared for just as much as the family member or friend. Not only can it be a physically demanding role, it can also be quite emotionally and mentally challenging. If the carer is feeling on top of their own physical and mental health, they will most likely be a better carer.
As a caregiver to a loved one with Parkinson’s, what are some of the challenges you face that others may not be aware of?
Balancing a loved one’s needs with your own can be quite challenging especially when juggling work commitments, which is why a great support network is important. My sister Michelle and I are lucky to have my dad as a full-time carer for our mum, and we try as best we can to divide up our time based on our work schedules.
Hear more from Kristy on the Shake It Up show, talking to our host Amy about her mother’s experience with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia, her family’s experience in their role as carers for a loved one with Parkinson’s, and her advice for other carers to support their own health and wellbeing.
What are some ways you manage your own mental health and wellbeing as a carer?
Keeping a regular gym routine helps with stress, along with booking in sauna sessions and checking in with friends. I am lucky to have a group of close friends that I feel comfortable enough to talk about my struggles with.
How can other people support those in their life that are acting as carers?
I think it’s as simple as asking, “How are you doing?” It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture… just let them know that you are here if they ever want to talk to someone or get an outside perspective on things. Perhaps even scheduling a walk around the park with a coffee every few weeks or so.
What is one piece of advice you can share for others providing care to a loved one?
That it’s okay to not feel like you have it all together. There will always be good days and bad days… just allow yourself to be human.