Are you a carer? Whether you’re looking after or helping someone close to you because they have COVID-19, or on a regular basis for a few or many hours a week, there’s information, support and services available.
Who are carers?
Carers are individuals, family, whānau and āiga who provide care for someone close to them who needs help with everyday living because of a disability, health condition, illness or injury. Words such as ‘support’ or ‘manaakitanga’ may better describe the way a carer sees caring as a natural part of what they do for the people they love.
Image credit: Ministry of Social Development
There are approximately 430,000 carers in Aotearoa New Zealand – about 1 in 10 people.
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.
Depending on your situation, being a carer 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 older 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 rather than going into residential care.
Image: Ministry of Social Development
According to the Ministry of Social Development:
- About 1 in 10 New Zealanders are carers.
- Carers are nearly twice as likely to be female (63% female).
- Carers span all ethnic backgrounds, with the majority being European and Māori (European 70%, Māori 15%, Pacific 6%, other 2%).
- The carer population is older than the New Zealand population (20% of carers are over 65 years, compared to 15% of all New Zealanders).
- Nearly one in 10 carers are 15–24 years of age.
- Nearly two-thirds of carers are employed outside of their caring role (63% in full-time or part-time employment).
- About 1 in 5 carers live rurally (17% live in a rural settlement or other rural location).
- The value of unpaid family care is about $10.8 billion per annum (2013). The value is expected to have significantly increased since 2013.
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. Support is usually focused on the person needing care, but as more people become carers, it's important that you take good care of yourself and get support.
Respite is important for both of you!
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 formal 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.
You might be worried about ‘stepping away’ temporarily from the person who needs your support. But having a break from you can encourage independence, build self-esteem and provide a wider range of opportunities for socialisation. When you get back together again, you’ll have different things and new experiences to talk about.
You might also like to share a hobby with the person you’re caring for, eg, gardening together. Or they may benefit from participating in an activity programme that could provide an opportunity for you to have a break. The Ministry of Health funds activities and services for people with high and complex needs and/or an intellectual disability. Read more about services provided to support people with disabilities and the people who care for them.
Ask for help and let others step in
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. Putting others’ needs first can see you become more socially isolated, exhausted and possibly unhappy. It can also mean you postpone your own health checks or put your own needs way down the priority list.
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.
Image credit: Canva
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.
- Make sure you keep up with regular health/dental checks and vaccinations. It’s important for you, but it’s also important that the person you care for. They might be exposed to infections or have to do without you if you become unwell.
- 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.
- Find ‘me time’ even on the busiest day – this might be 5 minutes for a walk in the garden or some small activity that gives pleasure.
- 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.
- Plan regular excursions or small ‘treats’ to look forward to. They don’t have to cost a thing. It might be watching a particular movie online, a special lunch with whānau or friends, a picnic in the park or borrowing a friend’s holiday home for a few days! Setting up a regular commitment such as a weekly singing group or coffee date gives your schedule some structure.
Being a carer when there's COVID-19 in your whare
If somebody in your household or whare has COVID-19, you need to keep your distance from them to reduce your risk of getting sick. Even when you're the main carer, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of you catching COVID as well. If you get sick you won't be able to look after them.
- Let fresh air into the spaces where you live, provide care, work and gather with others to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
- Wear a face mask and if you have home helpers, ask them to wear a face mask.
- Cough into your elbow, wash your hands and clean often-touched surfaces.
- Try and keep your contact to a minimum while people are COVID-positive.
- Test yourself to check that you are COVID-19 free. You can order free RATs online and get somebody to pick them up for you. You may be able to get free medical masks at the same time.
Remember, it's really important that as well as looking after your physical wellbeing, you look after your mental wellbeing. If you're isolating, make sure you stay connected with people using the internet or phone. You can also go outdoors for fresh air, or go for a walk in a COVID-safe way by physically distancing and wearing face masks. Plus, revisit the tips above and make an effort to find that ‘me’ time.
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 NZ 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
A guide for carers Ministry of Social Development, NZ
Carer support Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
Families, whānau and carers in NZ Age Concern NZ
COVID-19 – information for family, whānau and āiga carers Ministry of Health, NZ, 2022
Parkinson's caregiver checklist Parkinson's New Zealand
Who are carers? Ministry of Social Development, NZ
The NZ carers' strategy Ministry of Social Development, NZ
Mahi aroha – Carers’ strategy action plan 2019–2023 Ministry of Social Development and NZ Carers Alliance