Home alone caring for Mum

Demographers predict that the number of disabled in Australia will grow significantly due to a combination of the ageing of the population and longer life expectancy. Many of our disabled rely on workers to meet their daily needs. Most primary and other carers are women.

Today over 1 million Australians are severely disabled – they sometimes or always need assistance with self-care, mobility or communicating. But there is not a lot of assistance for their carers as Pamela Tremlett, a DDON in an aged care facility, found out while looking after her mother with dementia.

‘I looked after my mother for about 18 months. She also had macular deterioration so she was going blind,’ she said.
‘It was terrible. I’d get stressed out. She wouldn’t eat – she had anorexia, she always wanted to sleep and was always cold. Sometimes I’d go into the backyard and scream – I’d lose it when she wasn’t eating.’

Pamela says she found it very hard to get back up. ‘I knew there were government-funded packages to help keep the elderly at home but I just couldn’t access them. So I had no support. I tried to get home help but they wouldn’t even put me on a waiting list.

‘I took mum to the geriatrician and said her behaviour had changed. I felt she had early dementia but she had very little memory loss because she had frontal lobe insufficiency. I felt they did not listen to me. My mother went from being my best friend to being like a child – impatient and rude.

‘There’s no support pension I could claim even though I was over 55 so I couldn’t give up work. I worked four days of 9.5 hour shifts. I organised for day care one day. But I would arrive home and the place would be in darkness, the door left open and the house freezing with mum back in bed.’

Finally Pamela decided with misgivings to find a place for her mother in a home.

‘It was hard to put her in a home. You’re usually over 50 when you are looking after elderly parents. You feel you’re a failure when you can’t look after them at home. My sense of grief and desperation was enormous.
‘Now she’s good. She’s still got dementia but now she’s monitored and is safe.’

The unspoken story: caring for the aged and the disabled

  • today over 1 million Australians are severely disabled.
  • only 3% of the severely disabled rely on formal care.
  • the other 97% are cared for by an estimated 2.5 million Australians (1.25 million who are in paid work).
  • a further 2.7 million Australians have less severe disabilities (they have difficulty performing core tasks).
  • the majority of the 3.8 million disabled do not come from the older groups – they are aged 5-65.
  • more than three quarters of primary carers have been doing it for more than five years and over a third care for more than 40 hours per week.

For most carers there is no choice, it is a sense of obligation and family responsibility.