by George Tambassis
There are now more than 2.5 million unpaid carers in Australia – people who selflessly look after family, relatives and friends – many of whom probably don’t realise they are classified as carers.
Carers Australia defines carers as “people who provide unpaid care and support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail aged”.
These people are an integral part of Australia’s health structure and are the foundation of the country’s aged, disability, palliative and community care systems.
Caring may include help and support in any of the daily activities of the person being cared for. It may include physical and personal care and assistance such as dressing, lifting, showering, feeding or providing transport.
Commonly, carers are responsible for the management of medications. Carers provide emotional, social or financial support. Caring may also involve helping the person they are caring for to be organised, reminding them to attend appointments and dealing with emergencies.
National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia George Tambassis said community pharmacies and carers often had a close relationship.
“Because they look after the health needs of the person or people they care for, carers are high users of community pharmacy services in their own right,” he said.
“This is especially the case for primary carers who are those who provide the most substantial amount of care to one or more people with disability, chronic illness, mental illness or who are classified as frail aged,” he said.
Mr Tambassis said the stress of caring could make a significant contribution to the deteriorating health and wellbeing of carers.
“It is widely recognised that carers tend to neglect their own health because so much of their focus is on the person they are caring for,” he said.
“Community pharmacists and pharmacy staff can help carers by making them aware of services which are available to assist them to cope.
“Carer support services which community pharmacies may be able to provide information about include respite services, counselling, peer support, and carer training opportunities.”
Carers are often responsible for both purchasing and administering a range of pharmacy products on behalf of the person or people they care for.
“This includes prescription and non-prescription medications as well as wound management and specialist hygiene products, and aids and equipment,” Mr Tambassis said.
“The task of medication management can present a challenge to carers who are responsible for administering multiple medications in the correct dosage and at the correct frequency; ensuring that they are properly stored and have not exceeded the expiry date; and monitoring and reporting side-effects.
“Times at which medication management is likely to be particularly challenging are where medications change, particularly after discharge from hospital.
“Carers are often responsible for purchasing and administering a range of pharmacy products on behalf of the person they care for.
“This includes prescription and non-prescription medications as well as wound management, specialist products, aids and equipment.
“As community pharmacists we understand that medication management can present a challenge to carers who are responsible for administering multiple medications in the correct dosage and at the correct frequency, ensuring that they are properly stored and have not exceeded their expiry dates, as well as monitoring and reporting side-effects.
“So we provide information about the medicines, how to take them and provide dose administration aids where they are needed. And we do this not just for the people being cared for also for the carers themselves.”
Mr Tambassis said carers also often sought assistance and advice in the proper use of aids and equipment, hygiene products and skin care management for the people they care for.
“Community pharmacies importantly understand that the role of carers is not just that of couriers/purchasers of medicines and other products dispensed by pharmacies, but that they need as much information about them as the consumer,” Mr Tambassis said.
“We know one of the challenges for carers is navigating the health system – which can be complex, frustrating, and time-consuming. As a first point of contact, pharmacies can play an important role in assisting carers, through our strong connections with local medical and allied health providers.
“We also know that all-too-often carers neglect to care for themselves.
“Because so much of their focus is on the person they are caring for, they can at times relegate their own health to a lower priority. This is something that community pharmacists are well aware of and on the look-out for.”