"The guilt and relief is still real ..."

Latrobe’s Alice Nichols spent the better part of a year in a blur of exhaustion.

She’s stoic – she grew up one of fifteen children and quickly learned how to get on with getting on. But waking up at all hours of the night to tend to her 93-year-old husband, showering and feeding him, and taking him to the toilet took its toll on her. And Alice helplessly watched as his dementia worsened.

“I was determined to carry on caring for Rex,” the 90-year-old great-grandmother says. “We’ve been married for over 70 years and I vowed to look after him in sickness and in health. But caring for him round the clock was exhausting, I was just so tired all the time.”

Alice says things came to a head one day when her son, Colin, told her: “Mum, you’re killing yourself! Dad needs to go into specialised care.”

That turning point was two years ago. And Alice says it was then that she finally realised she needed help. Not just for her sake, but for her husband’s too. “I couldn’t carry him, I was scared he would fall, and I finally realised Rex needed help that I simply couldn’t provide. I also realised my blood pressure was sky high and my health was suffering, I was cracking up!”

So Rex moved into Uniting AgeWell Latrobe Community Strathdevon. He’s been happy and content from the get-go, and Alice says the level of care is excellent. “I visit him every day. The staff are so kind and lift him into a wheelchair with a hoist so I can take him for walks around the grounds. I also now have time to play cards with my friends on Thursdays. I still drive, which is great, and I have time to bake date scones for my son – he loves them!”

But Alice was unprepared for the rollercoaster of emotions she still finds herself on: guilt, relief, happiness, emptiness, sadness … “You name it, I feel it!” she says.

To help those in similar situations to Alice, Uniting AgeWell is launching its newly-developed ‘Sharing the Care – A support kit for families and carers new to residential care’ during Carers Week.

The kit is designed to help families and carers cope with the transition of a loved one into residential aged care. It looks at the range of emotions a carer may go through - , from grief to rage, from relief to guilt or feelings of emptiness and everything else in between - and how to deal with them. And it offers a raft of helpful advice, from dealing with paperwork, to information about dementia and advice on self-care – validating the carer’s feelings with help on how to get their life back on track.

It was developed by Uniting AgeWell’s Tasmanian-based social worker Heidi Morton in response to the amount of carer stress she saw when a person transitions into aged care. She worked with health professionals, family carers, staff and residents in compiling the kit.

“We aim to reassure carers what they are going through is quite normal,” Heidi says. “And that both the carer and the loved one need to be okay for you both to be okay.”

Heidi stresses that a carer doesn’t stop being a carer when the person they care for enters residential care. “It’s a different kind of caring. It goes from functional to being able to spend more quality time with the person. Having the time and energy to have fun and joy with the loved one is very important! And it works both ways, with the resident able to enjoy this special time too.”

For details on permanent or respite care at Uniting AgeWell Latrobe Community, Strathdevon call (03) 7038 0400.

Learn more about Sharing the Care - A support kit for families and carers new to residential care