Meet Lisa Smith. Lisa lives in the beautiful NSW town of Mudgee and is a wife, mother of two grown children, school teacher, chef extraordinaire, and owner of two crazy Labradors (one chocolate and one white).
Lisa also cares for her mother, Barbara, who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Mum has always been a very young person for her age. She’s a hairdresser and has been around young people her whole life. My mother has been the one everyone has looked at and gone ’Oh my goodness, she’s not that old!’ Because she dressed young, she acted young. Everyone wanted a mother like my mother because she was…trendy. She always had her hair beautifully done; her makeup beautifully done.”
The Caring Journey
For many years Lisa’s mum had battled with depression.
‘We were actually caring for her back when we were young adults, but we didn’t realise it. And now we care for her as she ages.”
More recently, Lisa found herself becoming increasingly concerned about the issues Barbara was experiencing with her memory, her cognitive understanding and even her everyday life skills. Yet she struggled to find answers.
‘I knew something wasn’t right – I knew she had depression…we’d worked a lot on that over the years. But things just weren’t adding up and I was very concerned. Nobody else was noticing the things that she was saying, the things that she was misunderstanding, misinterpreting, forgetting. Those little signs…and I’m thinking is this depression or is there something else going on?”
By this time Lisa was visiting her mum several times a week, fielding the phone calls which were confusing her, helping her with bills, and generally picking up the pieces. It wasn’t until her mum fell and broke her arm that Lisa realised that she needed to get some help.
Lisa connected with Carer Gateway after hearing about the program through a local service provider. Registering as a carer was easy, and after answering some initial questions, Lisa was referred to a Carer Support Planner.
“When I first spoke to the Carer Support Planner, I told her I was fine. She said to me, ‘I hear that you’re fine, but can I ask you some specific questions?’ And she did – and she cracked me. She nailed those questions to get underneath in a matter of minutes. She got what I was going through, and it was the first time anybody had understood what I was going through.”
It was at that moment Lisa finally felt heard. “I felt listened to. I knew that I was finally going to get help.”
“If it wasn’t for Carer Gateway, I’d still be absolutely floundering!”
Within a couple of days Carer Gateway had arranged for a nursing service to help her mum with showering while her broken arm mended. After the first visit, the nurse contacted Lisa and said,
“I’ve just spent some time with your mum, and Lisa… I can see your mother is starting to get cognitive decline.”
For Lisa, this was a pivotal moment.
“This was the first time someone else had seen what I’d been seeing.”
Barbara now has good days and bad days. “Mum spent many years putting on a happy face while struggling with depression. She is a very strong person. For her, trying to come to terms with her memory loss, and her inability to function day to day has been a really rocky road.”
“Knowing that I can do it. I can be a carer and I can be a daughter – I can do both of those things and balance them. She’s my mum and knowing that I can now care for her the way she cared for me. She brought me up to be the person I am. It’s only fair that she reaps the rewards of how she brought me up.”
“It’s the being on call for her 24/7, and not knowing all the answers if she does call… not knowing how to manage some situations. It’s the bad days.”
What Keeps you Going?
“Family – knowing that families help families. Knowing that mum is essentially happy in her own place, with her own things, and her own little dog. Without me helping her, I know that she couldn’t be there. And I don’t want that for her.”
Hopes and Dreams
“I want to retire and have grand babies…I want to be able to go away in my caravan when I want to go away, and eventually when the grand children come along, I want to be able to have time to spend with my children and my grandchildren – and not have to worry about work.”
“Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re exhausted and ask for help. And use your village to support you. We’ve all got a village, whether it’s family, friends, or work colleagues…you’ve got to talk about what’s going on to get support. If people don’t know, people can’t help.”
If you’re one of Australia’s 2.7 million unpaid carers, you can access practical advice and support by contacting Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurologic disorder that causes the brain to shrink (atrophy) and brain cells to die. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia — a continuous decline in thinking, behavioural and social skills that affects a person’s ability to function independently.