One of the most difficult parts of caring is knowing when to let go.
Wangaratta resident Lyn Kahlefeldt (pictured) was a full-time carer for her husband Henry “Harry” for five years before the challenges of the role simply became too much.
Harry, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease 12 years ago, suffered a series of falls last year and Lyn was forced to call an ambulance as she was unable to lift him. Harry had also regressed back to his childhood; standing at the front door of the couple’s home waiting for his father to come home from work.
Lyn realised it was time for Harry, 81, to move into aged care.
“It was a very emotional time,” Lyn said. “But it does give me comfort to know he’s safe and being well cared for.”
On March 7 Lyn will attend a play in Wangaratta – presented by not-for-profit organisation Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) – which aims to raise awareness of carer-related issues and support available for people in rural areas.
The Carer, written and starring Alan Hopgood, tells the heart-warming story of a man rediscovering joy after the death of his wife to Alzheimer’s disease.
Lyn says without support from VMCH’s Carer Support Program, she wouldn’t have been able to care for Harry at home for as long as she did.
“They helped me with respite, social outings with other carers, and a home care package in which I could get help with looking after Harry’s personal hygiene,” Lyn said. “Last year they also invited me to a worldwide conference on Alzheimer’s disease in Perth with three other carers. It was absolutely amazing and a good chance to talk with other carers.”
VMCH Community Engagement Officer Jennifer White said Lyn was one of around 2,500 unpaid carers supported by VMCH across Hume who cared for people who are frail aged, have a disability, mental illness, dementia, chronic illness or are going through palliative care.
Jennifer said VMCH – and supporting organisations – hope to reach out to carers and link them with local services via an information expo following the play.
She said carers were at “great risk” of ill health due to the physical, mental and emotional stresses of the role.
“Carers often ignore their own health and are 40 per cent more likely to suffer from a chronic health condition,” Jennifer said.
“Many carers, particularly in rural and remote areas, feel isolated; missing the social opportunities associated with work, recreation and leisure activities. Access to information, advice, support and resources through a variety of means is vital for carers.”
Lyn said she likes to use her experience to help other carers in the community. “Little tips like buying velcro rather than lace-tied shoes and polo shirts rather than button-ups really help,” she said.
And while the physical aspects of Lyn’s caring role have now ceased, her commitment to and bond with her husband remains strong. Although Harry no longer recognises her, Lyn travels 65km down the Hume to Violet Town to visit him every fortnight.
“This year we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary,” she said. “Harry is a great man.”
The Carer is on at 1.30pm, Monday, March 7 at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre, 33-37 Ford St, Wangaratta. Tickets are $10 per person (including afternoon tea) and can be purchased by phoning 5722 8105 or online http://wangarattapac.com.au/box-office/. For more information please call VMCH on 1800 052 222.
The play is also sponsored by UnitingCare Goulburn Northeast and Northeast Health Wangaratta. It is supported by Alzheimer’s Australia Vic, Rural City of Wangaratta, Carers Victoria and Upper Murray Family Care – Carer Support Options. VMCH is the provider for the Commonwealth Carer Respite Centre in the Hume Region.