Care for caregivers: Looking after those who look after you

Monday 4 October 2021 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features

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Care for caregivers: Looking  after those who look after you
Te Vaerua Rehabilitation Service Inc Occupational therapist Kelly Pick looks over at the technique of caregivers in moving a patient from a wheelchair at the workshop held this week 21100116.

Te Vaerua Community Rehabilitation Services Inc held its first workshop to train people in basic caregiving skills to care for people with long term illnesses and disabilities, earlier this week. A caregiver who attended the course was moved by the stories that were expressed.

Te Vaerua Rehabilitation Service has been a recipient of the Social impact Fund (SIF) programme funding targeting rehabilitation and therapy of persons with disabilities; the service has provided training on rehabilitation in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.

The group was set up to look after the welfare of people who are living with a disability.

“None of us is going to escape this,” Te Vaerua board member Niki Rattle tells the participants of a two-day workshop on basic caregiving skills held last week.

“When I’m advocating, I say, this is not about them, none of us will escape this… there are children with Autism and Down Syndrome who need assistance as well, so we need to open ourselves up and accept the reality.”

Rattle was touched by the wealth of knowledge amongst the caregivers who bravely shared their experiences at the Te Vaerua workshop.

“It takes a special person to become a good caregiver, patience compassion and empathy are only some of the qualities that a caregiver should possess and caregivers should not be too proud or too akama (shy) to ask for help,” she says, adding “and people shouldn’t have to go through difficulties before they can access help.”

Te Vaerua receives assistance through the New Zealand High Commission and the Social Impact Fund provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to buy the resources.


Caregivers practice the technique of moving a patient on a bed. 21100117.

But Rattle says the need is so great that what they can afford to buy is disappearing pretty much straight away.

“The need obviously is greater than the supply,” she says.

A caregiver, who had attended the course, was also moved by the stories that were expressed.

“It was really emotional for me, and I really feel for the caregivers who are struggling,” shares the caregiver who wished to remain anonymous.

She is a caregiver for her partner who is bedridden and needs 24-hour care, “but, we are lucky and we are blessed that we have several caregivers on a roster that help us”.

An organised woman, she keeps a diary in which everything is written down – who is on duty, medication, meals and anything else.

The caregivers do wipe downs, change clothing or bedding etc. and give the patient a light massage.

She and the caregivers had never done a caregivers course. “We all just learnt as we went along on our own.”

The first time they had to move the patient in and out a vehicle, they just had to figure it out how for themselves.

“And it took ages,” she says. “Until Te Vaerua came up and Kelly (Pick) showed us how to maneuver a patient properly…”

She values the services of Te Vaerua who visit and demonstrate particular exercises.

Her partner does regular exercise and has a good diet with no sugar, “and the good thing now is you can buy sugar free products, but it’s not cheap”.

“We have to be careful and gentle when moving him and we have purchased a ‘donut’ from the CITC pharmacy to make him more comfortable and to help alleviate pressure.”

She recommends to caregivers to really plan ahead for things that are needed such as gloves, soap, powder, towels, sheets, hand wash etc.

“Because hygiene is very important for you, the caregiver and the patient, and look around and see where it’s cheaper to buy, and be mindful that products always run out on the island.

“And record everything you purchase and keep the receipts and do a summary at the end of the week.”

The need for caregivers in the country is expected to grow with the increase of longevity in the older adult population, and caregivers are encouraged to undergo regular checkups, eat well and take care of themselves.

She has been diagnosed with arthritis, has asthma and a non-communicable disease (NCD), and when she has her time off in the week, she takes time out elsewhere to rest.

“I’m blessed and very lucky I have very good and caring friends who offer their homes to me to get away to,” she says adding she feels for other caregivers who can’t do this – have nowhere else to go to just rest peacefully with no distractions.

“When I go to a quiet rest place, basically what I do is just sleep and watch movies.

“It’s good for me to go when I need to, I’m very blessed. Whereas others don’t get the opportunity to just take a break and I really feel for them, its very important to have that support whether its from your family or your friends.

“I can see all the struggles (of the caregivers) and I feel for those who are on their own and don’t have that support.”

She also has to take care of herself especially given she has some medical conditions of her own to deal with. Her asthma is under control but when it gets cold, the arthritis becomes painful and it can be a struggle to do the basic caregiving things.

“You’ve just got to do it if you’re there on your own, so you get on with it.”

However she is struggling with the NCD illness that the doctor has advised her is also being brought on stress. Her friends are helping out with a meal plan.

Seeing her partner immobile can be distressing for her at times.

“It’s emotional and heart breaking to see, he was once such an outgoing and vivacious guy, it really hurts me to see him bed ridden like that.

“There are moments when I look at him and I just cry, and go outside and I weep and I scream… and I think ‘oh God it is so sad’…”

Although he has no mobility, his mind is still sharp, and together they talk through her emotions.

“It’s good we can talk. And he is actually a good patient, he is still very alert and sometimes we sit there and laugh and he loves watching CNN.

“He’s so used to people handling him now, but at the start it was difficult for him and you can understand that.”

She says to be a good caregiver, one must have patience, empathy and be understanding as well, and be straight forward.

“You have to have compassion and empathy, be firm but kind and don’t be harsh, I always apologise if I’m too harsh.”

Each week she likes to treat him with a roast meal to offer something different to eat and does ensure he has a good healthy diet.

“We are lucky we are okay financially, but there are other people out there struggling and my heart goes out to them.”

She also asks families and the community who have the services of caregivers to, “be considerate to your caregivers. They have to be looked out for too, please make them feel welcome and appreciated - it’s about looking after people who look after you.”

In the future she would like to go out and help people who need caregivers. “I feel for caregivers who don’t have the help, so caregiving is something I would love to continue to be involved in.”

Slowly she’s getting her own health issues back on track.

With her heart of gold and lot of love, and the support of good caring friends she’ll soldier on. “I’m going to hang in there,” she says with a smile.

In launching the first Cook Islands National Policy on Disability in 2003, former Minister of Internal Affairs Vaevae Pare stated that “people with disabilities, up to recent times, have been totally invisible in all areas and at all levels of the development processes of this country. They are the most discriminated against population group. It’s time we changed some of our values and understandings with respect to those that may have some form of disability. Whether the disability be psychological, physiological or whether it be a function of accident or genetics, people with disabilities are people first, deserving the same set of rights as every citizen of this country.”

The Cook Islands Disability Inclusive Policy 2020 - 2025 pursued to provide direction and the means of addressing aspiring outcomes through actions that would result in the improvement of the quality of life of the person with disability and their family.

Caregivers assist individuals for example the elderly, disabled persons, or people suffering from chronic or mental disorders who have difficulty performing basic day-to-day activities.

A caregiver’s duties include assisting with personal care, administering medication, and providing companionship.

Practical care needs involve assisting a loved one in the management of their daily life and a caregiver responsibilities can include: checking on their health, preparing a care plan, assisting with basic needs, provide companionship, help with housekeeping, monitoring medications and preparing meals.

The current Cook Islands caregivers allowance is $100 per fortnight.