CARERS: James McCutcheon and his wife Beverley.
CARERS: James McCutcheon and his wife Beverley. Patrick Woods

Learn 11 practical tips for voluntary carers

FOR seven years Queensland resident James McCutcheon has cared for his wife of 61 years, learning many valuable lessons along the way about the carer role and Alzheimer's

"I took it on as a natural thing," the 86-year-old said. "I loved the woman so I decided to care for her until I couldn't any longer."

His wife Beverley was diagnosed with Alzheimer's after two years of James struggling with the gradual changes in her.

In March he finally moved her into a high-care facility.

As the National Carers Week comes to a close, James shares his 11 hard-learnt tips from his experience of caring for Beverley.

1. Get a good GP

"The first one I had was terrible and didn't recognise the fact, kept saying it was old age," James said.

"Beverley wouldn't let me go with her at the time until I forced the issue."

James knew something was wrong when Beverley kept asking the same question "every five minutes".

"I thought, that's the first sign," James said.

He changed GPs quite quickly.

2. Find an even better geriatrician

The first geriatrician James found very offhand, with no bedside manner and "mucked up tablets".

3. Enduring Power of Attorney

This must be obtained for everyone and done early on.

As Beverley didn't have one James approached everybody he could think of to help, but as they considered Beverley not capable of understanding the document, nothing could be done.

It was only when he obtained a form from the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. "I finally went to court just this year and was granted administration," he said.

4. Check out Rest Homes early

Look over rest homes to find a few that you are comfortable with and then register with them.

5. Join a carers group

Do this early. "You can learn a lot of information from carers," James said.

6. Approach the aged care assistance team (ACAT)

Get an assessment done as soon as there is a diagnosis. "There are packages available from the government," James said.

"You can then get a provider, and there are lots of them around now, and they look after you with people coming to help you, or you want a day off."

7. Day care

Find out about day care options through a provider.

8. Respite

"It's a necessity to have respite as it's a 24/7 job," James recommends. "You get a bit jaded and it's very hard with what comes out of their minds and how they act."

Your provider can advise on your respite options.

9. Friendship

Talked to My Aged Care about the closest friendship group which is where you can meet with others socially and learn a lot about dementia.

10. Incontinence allowance

There is an allowance to cover some of the costs of incontinence apparel.

11. Carers allowance

This allowance is available through Centrelink.

Look after yourself

  • Keep your mind open.
  • When you are feeling depressed or angry, "remember it's not the person, it's the disease" James counsels.
  • Go walking. James walks with a group that steps out around the local shopping early in the morning.
  • Find an activity that gives you pleasure. He is a painter which for 40 years has been his passion. He has even sold many of his watercolours.
  • Allocate a day and time each week for you to do something that is just for you. James had Monday morning locked in as his day to paint.
  • Find social activities. "I think you have to be socially active because if you don't, you will tend to vegetate and sit and watch television all the time," James said.

Social interactions through his walking, lunches and dinners with friends and then getting absorbed in his painting have been a great saviour for James.

"I get by, but it is lonely, particularly at night when you are sitting there and you look across and think, where is she?" James said.


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