“It was so nice visiting my mum in respite care and actually being her daughter, not her carer. Not having to worry about taking her to the bathroom, making tea … just having that beautiful time together, mother and daughter.”
Teena Cook is a carer for her mother Brenda Venables, a client of Carinity Home Care.
Brenda, 73, has had a long journey to reach her new life with Teena, Teena’s husband and their four children on their farm outside of Crows Nest, near Toowoomba.
She relocated to Queensland from Western Australia in 2017, a few months after a debilitating stroke. Brenda and her family contemplated whether full time care or living at home with Teena’s family, with the assistance of home care, was more appropriate for her needs. They eventually settled on a residential aged care facility close by to the family.
“Mum and I have a lot of history where we have supported each other and we are really close. When COVID came, I thought, ‘I need my mum here, and she needs her family and her grandchildren’,” Teena explained.
The family decided to bring Brenda home in July last year. Teena discovered Carinity when the family started looking for help to keep their mother and grandmother at home.
“When I saw they were Baptists, I knew that an organisation that is based upon the word of God and the love of Christ would support our Christian faith and our vision. It was the best decision we’ve made. They’ve been an absolute blessing to our family,” Teena said.
Carinity Home Care began supporting the family, taking Brenda to appointments and out for short social visits. But as time went on, Teena says she realised that they needed more help.
“Mum had become very introspective. She’d lost her positivity and could only think about what she’d lost because of the stroke. The woman that I loved was disappearing, becoming angry and frustrated – and I didn’t know that woman.
“That was emotionally draining for me and heartbreaking for my kids. We got to a point where, honestly, we hit a brick wall.”
Everything changed when Teena was encouraged to join the new Carer Gateway, where she was connected into the range of services available for carers including short-term residential respite. As a result, Brenda recently spent four weeks of respite care in a local aged care centre and Teena says the experience has been a saving grace for the whole family.
“Having the respite has been such a wonderful positive thing for our family. It’s given us a break, enabled us to emotionally kick back, for my children to have a break.”
As many carers will understand, Teena found that entrusting her beloved mother to someone else’s care was hard.
Teena began to realise that her protectiveness was changing the dynamic between mother and daughter – and unintentionally frustrating her mother.
“I was helicopter parenting my parent, mothering my own mother, and the lines were getting blurred between mother and daughter.”
Respite has given the whole family time to reflect and to re-set, Teena said.
“Mum and I started to listen to one another again. When you are in that role sometimes it’s hard to communicate because you are frustrated, you’re caught up in that cycle.
The experience has been positive for Brenda, providing new opportunities for interaction.
“Mum’s already talking about next time and the friends she’s made there. I’ve realised respite isn’t only for me and my family, but also for her to have a break from us and the dynamic of our family, and to be around people her own age,” Teena said.
Have a break, not a breakdown
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), Teena Cook is one of an estimated 533,200 Queenslanders providing ongoing, unpaid care for family members or friends, or for children whose parents are unable to look after them. That’s one in nine Queenslanders.
Carinity’s State Manager – Community Services, Janelle Heyse, and her staff see first-hand the challenges and the joys of caring for a loved one at home.
“People take on the role of carer for many reasons. For some, it is the gradual diminishment of physical or mental abilities through ageing, for others it is the onset of disease or a sudden medical event or accident which turns their lives upside down,” Janelle explained.
“Whatever the reason, caring for a person has an ongoing and dramatic effect on individuals and families as they try to balance the caregiver role along with their own responsibilities and commitments. Many people make considerable sacrifices to keep their loved one at home.”
The importance of taking a break has long been recognised – for both carers and clients.
However, according to Carinity Aged Care Regional Manager, Kathy Nicholls, many carers are either unaware of formal respite options or are reluctant to take that first important step.
“Even though we know carer support is crucial, this is a group of people who by and large have neither the time nor the mental and emotional energy to ask for help.
“For some, relinquishing the role even for a short time seems like an abdication of responsibility. It can feel like weakness or failure, so they struggle on. But respite is so much more than the avenue of last resort. It is a life-affirming, supportive service which enriches the lives of clients. It’s a circuit-breaker and a breath of fresh air for everyone,” Kathy explained.
The 11 Carinity communities throughout Queensland cater for different levels of care including respite, and there’s no one-size-fits-all, according to Kathy.
“Short-term residential respite between two and six weeks may be one-off or a regular part of life. For some clients, respite provides an opportunity to ‘try out’ residential care.
“From an in-home care perspective, respite can be day respite, where a carer comes into the home for a few hours, giving the family a break or taking the client to appointments or social outings. It can also be all-day in-home respite, helping people to balance work commitments and family life.”
Teena Cook encourages carers to access the network of caring services and support as early as possible.
“I’ve learned that it’s okay to put your hand up and say, ‘I need help’. If you have your support network ready and both you and your parent are prepared, you get to the point where you can have a break, not a breakdown.”
According to Teena, Carinity has been a God-send to her family.
“What I love about Carinity is that they have supported us holistically. They are not just there for Mum, they are there for me and my whole family. It’s a privilege to look after my mother and I want to keep her at home as long as we can.
“I’ve got the support of Carinity, and now that I know we’ve got the respite as backup, I feel really excited and recharged. We can do this. I feel like I’m not alone.”