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Family Matters No. 29 - August 1991

Caring for family caregivers

Ilene Wolcott

Abstract

Information is provided about the Caregivers National Group Leader Training Project, a project to support family caregivers by training people to set up and guide community support groups. Caregivers participate in discussion sessions designed to affirm their caregiving role through sharing their experiences and concerns. The project is funded by the Federal Department of Community Services and Health.

As the Australian population ages, a growing number of families will be responsible for caring for elderly, sick and disabled relatives. The pressures and personal costs on those who care for family members have been well documented. They include physical and emotional exhaustion, depression, tensions with and among other family members, a limited social life and reduced paid employment.

A project to support family caregivers by training people to set up and guide community support groups has been launched by the Reverend Noel Schultz, a Uniting Church minister, and Dr Cynthia Schultz, a psychologist and lecturer at La Trobe University.

The Caregivers National Group Leader Training Project is funded by the federal Department of Community Services and Health. It evolved from an earlier project called People Grow Older: Caring for Family Caregivers', which was funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and sponsored by the Uniting Church in East Kew, a suburb of Melbourne.

This initial project brought together groups of care-givers who participated in nine discussion sessions designed to affirm their caregiving roles through sharing their experiences and concerns. Participants were provided with information on resources and encouraged to form self-help networks. Women in these groups outnumbered men 72 to 12, confirming that it is mainly women who care for sick, elderly and disabled relatives. Many members of the earlier groups have continued to meet informally.

Preliminary evaluation of the effects of the course suggest that participants had a better sense of psychological wellbeing than caregivers who did not take part in the groups. Leadership skills and sensitivity were recognized as an essential component because participants were often distressed, anxious, exhausted and coping with grief and loss. The evaluation of the program was reported by Schultz, C. and Schultz, N. (1990), caregivers', Australian Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol.2.

Thirty-two people were trained to lead similar courses in other parts of Victoria between 1988-90, and a Group Leader Manual was produced.

In 1991, the National Group Leader Training Project aims to conduct training workshops around Australia. Employers will be encouraged to become involved in the workshops, for as more employees become responsible for elderly family members, their work may be affected and employers need to be aware of the issues and how they might respond.

In order to extend the benefits of the program to those who can not participate, Reverend and Dr Schultz have also written a book, The Key to Caring, (Longman Cheshire, Melbourne 1990), which describes the experiences of caregivers who had taken part in the nine discussion sessions, covers the main issues of caring for elderly relatives, and provides practical advice and encouragement.

The book gives advice on effective communication, living with loss, coping with stress, self-development, and how to use community resources. It emphasises boosting the confidence and assertiveness of the caregiver, and the creation of support groups. At times this approach is almost spiritual.

For further information about the project, contact Dr Schultz, PO Box 55, Ivanhoe, Victoria, 3079.