Keri didn’t grow up with her Dad, but when she ran into him as an adult, the former rest home caregiver knew he needed her help.
“I bumped into him in Wellington and all my experience with caring and servicing people kicked into place after seeing the way he was living and being treated,” the 51-year-old says. “And so began my journey looking after my Dad.”
Keri is now caring for her father 24/7 by herself. He’s been diagnosed as having psycho geriatric dementia, and medical professionals say he needs to be in residential care.
“I feel the system has been set up to make people feel that they should put their loved ones into formal care,” she says.
Her biggest challenge as a family carer is finding somewhere or someone she trusts for her dad to have respite care with.
“Dad and I have experienced some terrible situations that involved support carers, nurses and government organisations. I feel like I have to fight for good medical care and Dad’s rights as a person.”
She believes more residential care at the psycho geriatric level is needed in New Zealand.
“At the moment there is only one facility in each DHB region and if you do not like that place you have to pay the top up amount to get respite elsewhere, which can be $150 and up per day.”
Keri firmly believes there also needs to be more appropriate housing for elderly and their carers.
“Dad and I are in Housing New Zealand home which isn't designed for his needs and we are surrounded by children. As if looking after Dad isn't hard enough, the battle to have the home modified or to argue for a transfer - and then the noise from the children - is exhausting.”
Getting time out for herself is hard, as Keri has had to exit services which just didn't work out for her Dad. She advertised for a carer to come into their home, but recently caught that person, on video, stealing money. So she continues to plod on alone.
“I have come to the stage of knowing that this is the life for me while my Dad is alive,” she says of the inability to get significant breaks.
But she finds small ways to wind down.
“We go for drives out to the country with ice cream, or I wait for Dad to go to sleep and I sit outside.”
There are plenty of silver linings, too.
Keri has had the opportunity to get to know her Dad, her family history and where her personality comes from, and now sees many of her Dad’s traits in herself and her siblings.
“And knowing that I am giving my father the best care and time in his last days means a lot. We have grown very close and I admire my father for the man he is.”
Her advice for other female carers is that while our medical professionals know their stuff, it is okay to question them.
“Ask questions until you understand completely. Listen to your instincts until you have been proven wrong. Our elderly need to be protected and you have to be prepared to stand up for them, be their voice, be their protector.”
If getting breaks is difficult, it might be worth reading Carers NZ's Time Out Guide, which can help to plan for respite. It's available at www.carers.net.nz along with many other respite planning tools and ideas. Try our Take 1 Minute Take 5 short breaks to watch, read, or listen to at home!