Understanding the implications of becoming a carer

Whether it’s an elderly relative or a friend; or a child with a disability or a mental illness, you may find yourself taking on a caring role.

An accident, sudden illness, or a new diagnosis can thrust you into the role immediately. Or it may be a gradual process of taking on more responsibilities as someone’s need for help increases.

Either way you’re not alone. Australia has about 2.65 million unpaid carers, according to Carers Australia. About 861,000 are primary carers. If you’re weighing up whether to take on caring responsibilities for a loved one here are four things to consider.

Are you fit for the job?

Are you physically and mentally prepared to become a carer? Do you know enough about the person’s illness or disability? How much time will you have to devote to caring for them? More than half of primary carers provide care for at least 20 hours a week and one-third for 40 hours or more a week.

How will you manage financially?

Carers Australia reports the weekly median income of primary carers aged 15 – 64 is $800 compared to non-carers, who receive $997.

Consider how you will manage if you don’t have a steady income or it is reduced. Is it possible to take time out from your career, drop back to part-time work, or work from home?

Check whether you are eligible for government benefits such as the Carer Payment (for a carer who can no longer work because of their responsibilities) or the Carer Allowance (for a carer who is still able to work or study).

There is also the Carer Supplement, an annual payment to help with the cost of caring for someone.

How can you get help?

It can be overwhelming initially. Gathering information from doctors and healthcare professionals can help you understand what treatment, equipment, and support is needed. Contacting organisations such as Carers Australia and Carers Gateway is another way to access practical support and direction.

Apart from the day-to-day stress of caring for someone you may feel a sense of loss. There can be a loss of social connection and job status, for instance.

Joining a carer support group can connect you with others facing similar challenges.

And connect regularly with others – family or friends – who might be willing to provide back-up care.

How will you care for yourself?

When you are caring for someone else it can become an automatic reflex to put their needs first. It’s equally important to look after your own wellbeing. Get good sleep; eat a healthy diet; and exercise regularly. Self-care can also be as simple as taking the time to listen to some music; sit in the sunshine; or chat with a supportive friend.

What’s next?

A caring role may end because someone passes away, recovers, or you no longer have the capacity to be someone’s carer.

It helps to be prepared for that change. That may mean investigating aged care options. Or planning to downsize or liquidate other assets to assist financially. It may also mean a return to work and a career.

If you have questions about becoming a carer and the financial implications that may have, please talk to us.

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