A carer provides unpaid personal care, assistance and support to a person who needs this help because of a disability or disease such as cancer.
You may be a relative, friend or neighbour. Anyone can be a carer – it doesn’t matter what your age, sex, sexuality, profession or cultural background is.
You may not see yourself as a carer, rather that you are simply helping out a person in need or that you are providing care as a natural extension of your relationship. Some carers accept the increased responsibilities, while others may feel they have no choice or the role is something they ‘should’ do.
For some, becoming a carer can be sudden; for others, it’s a gradual process. However it happens, it may take some time to adjust. You may have to balance caring with other demands such as work, family or study. You may provide care for a short time or over months or years. Care may be needed for a few hours once a week or on a 24-hour basis. You may be providing care alone or sharing the responsibility with others. Sometimes a carer lives a long way from the person they are helping and coordinates care by phone, email or the internet.
The level of care you provide depends on the needs of the person you are caring for, and what you are able to do. See what carers do for more details.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are almost 2.7 million unpaid family carers in Australia.
About one-third of these people are primary carers, meaning they provide most of the care for the person they are looking after. Two in five of these primary carers spend 40 hours or more per week providing care. Over 40% of primary carers are balancing paid work with caring responsibilities.
Women are more likely than men to be carers, and most care for a close relative such as a partner, parent or child. Almost 75,000 carers are under 15.
"My husband, Louis, and I were very anxious when he was diagnosed with cancer.
"Initially I took on the tasks at home that Louis was unable to do – such as lawn mowing and feeding the animals. He had previously done the grocery shopping, because I don’t drive. I also arranged appointments and checked details with the treating team. I was grateful I could contact the cancer care coordinator at the radiotherapy centre when I had questions or when I was finding it difficult to cope. She referred me to the hospital social worker, who organised domestic assistance and transport to treatment.
"Louis joined a support group at the Cancer Support Centre. He enjoyed meeting new people and didn’t feel so alone. While Louis was at the support centre, I joined a tai chi class organised through the Carers Association and also attended their support workshops and relaxation sessions. I found the encouragement from other carers gave me the confidence boost I needed. After the exercise class I felt recharged and like I had more energy.
"The support of the hospital social worker was invaluable and reduced many of the day-to-day tasks and concerns I had, and allowed Louis and I to spend more quality time together."
Reviewed by: Maxine Rosenfield, Counsellor, Private Practice, NSW; Joan Bartlett, Consumer; Julie Butterfield, Consumer; Julie Hill, Telephone Support Group Coordinator, Cancer Council NSW; Anna Lovitt, Senior Social Worker – Oncology, W.P. Holman Clinic, TAS; Carolina Simpson, Policy and Development Officer, Carers NSW; and Helen Tayler, Social Worker/Counsellor, Cancer Counselling Service, Belconnen Community Health Centre, ACT. We would also like to thank the health professionals and consumers who have worked on previous editions of this title.