Caring for the carers is the family way

The moment you walk into Irene Searle’s home you’re struck by the love, laughter and warmth at her kitchen table.

Gathered for a cuppa with Irene are daughters, Donna and Deane, and Irene’s Centacare Support Delivery Manager, Bridgette Singh.

We’re talking about the role of carers within families and it quickly becomes clear that the Searle family has provided practical carer support to each other throughout the many, sometimes tragic, experiences that have come their way.

From coping with mental illness, the heart-breaking loss of premature babies or Irene’s husband Kevin’s recent dementia diagnosis and the resulting difficult decision to find residential aged care for him, it seems like this family has experienced had their share of challenges.

Gather around Irene’s kitchen table for a cuppa and a chat about the vital role carers have played in her family story.

Across Australia, there are 2.65 million people providing unpaid care for a family member or friend who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail aged.

Carers are an integral part of Australia’s health system and are the foundation of our aged, disability, palliative and community care systems.

Irene and Centacare Support Delivery Manager, Bridgette Singh, folding sheets.

The Searle family describe for us the way, throughout all the challenges they have faced, they have worked together, each taking on different support roles for the person in need at that time.

While Kevin has accessed Centacare support for some time, this year, with his health declining, and the impact of caring taking its toll on Irene, the family felt it was time to access some additional help for Irene herself.

“I thought I could cope” admits Irene. “I’ve always been very independent. The girls are a great help to me. With Kevin’s illness I’ve had to learn everything about the bills and the finances for the first time and they are always coming to help me out with jobs as they come up. But I wasn’t coping. ”

While Irene initially resisted the idea of in-home support, Bridgette’s creative thinking and collaboration with Irene and family now means Irene has weekly visits from Centacare support workers to accompany her shopping and to appointments and to be a companion to her as she tackles the jobs that are important to her at home.

“They clean out the linen cupboard together or get some washing on,” explains Donna, “Mum has company and she feels less anxious knowing she can keep things going at home.”

Bridgette also connected Irene with Carers Queensland phone counselling to help her navigate her role as a carer for Kevin.
With Donna and Deanne, and their families visiting regularly, taking Irene to visit Kevin, providing meals and plenty of emotional support, they all agree the regular communication with Bridgette is ‘a lifesaver’.

“We can get on the phone to Bridgette and talk through how Mum’s going and how her needs are changing,” says Deanne. “Bridgette organised everything with Dad when he was in hospital – she goes above and beyond, just amazing.”

Of course, as a carer, there are times when the going gets tough. Donna recounts how at one such moment, her teenage son gave her some sage advice.

“He said to me, you can’t be everybody’s hero. So yes, it is important to let others in to help.”

Centacare provides a range of age care and carer support services help people stay living in the home they love.

The Carer Gateway provides information and advice on the in-person and online supports available to carers across Australia. To find out more, and to access online support services, visit