Like most carers, sharing the difficulties of her role isn’t all that comfortable for Sheryl Phin.
She and her husband Rod have cared for his mum, Val, aged 91, for the past nine years in their Kilsyth South home following her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Along with the emotional toll that comes with accepting Val’s altered abilities and personality, it’s the practical side of things that wears Sheryl down.
“I do the cooking, washing and Val needs help with dressing. I’ve aged quite considerably in the last five years. It’s just very draining because we are constantly watching her and reminding her to do everyday things, making sure she doesn’t accidentally harm herself.”
October 14-20 is Carers Week, celebrating the outstanding contribution unpaid carers make to our nation.
Sheryl and Rod are among almost 900 carers across Melbourne’s east supported by VMCH.
VMCH’s dementia-specific respite program Carinya gives Sheryl and Rod a break from their role and provides Val with a safe and secure environment where she can go on community outings and socialise.
Each Sunday, the Phin’s drop Val at the Lysterfield house where she stays for two nights. This allows Sheryl to care for her grandson on Mondays, visit her daughter in Geelong, or just catch up on household tasks.
“Obviously as Val’s disease progresses, so do her needs, so things are getting harder. While she’s at Carinya it takes a bit of pressure off.”
Around 60 people with dementia are supported at Carinya, though it’s main aim is to improve the quality of life of their carers.
Carinya Coordinator Lynette Alexander says the most common challenge she sees carers face is letting go.
“They feel very guilty initially and at times at their wits end. But mostly, they feel sad that the person they knew and loved is not the same. They see themselves as ‘just a carer now’, not a husband, wife, mother, daughter or son.”
As Val’s needs increase, Sheryl is pragmatic about the future of permanent aged care. But for now, she’s grateful Carinya is there and that it’s working for everyone.
“The hardest part is not knowing what’s ahead and what to expect (of Alzheimer’s). But I know staff at Carinya can help us and provide advice if we need it, so we’re not completely alone.”