Tasman’s full-time carers can finally breathe a sigh of relief after battling exhaustion looking after their loved ones during lockdown.

During Level 4, respite home visits from Age Concern’s carer relief programme had to stop to keep people safe in their bubbles.

For some carers, that meant being on call 24/7. From 11.59pm last night, however, we are in Level 2 and help can be given to those who need it most.

Julia Reid, whose 84-year-old husband Graham has dementia, said that lockdown had been especially difficult.

“There was no one coming at Level 4. I could cope with the days if I got a reasonable sleep, but a few nights without sleep is really tough going.”

She said that Graham never left her side, even for toilet breaks.

“Everywhere I go, my shadow is with me. It never stops. He’s waiting at the door when I come out of the bathroom. I don’t get a minute to myself.”

Susan Arrowsmith, registered social worker with Age Concern, said it was a particularly tough time for carers.

“Many people will still be getting in-home supports from providers if personal care is something they need help with. That doesn’t stop in lockdown. But the chance to get a bit of a break is gone. So it’s been hard.” People with advanced dementia, like Graham, become reliant on their carers for every little thing.

“I’ll ask him to pass the butter, but he doesn’t know what that is any more. It’s mentally exhausting not to get a break from that level of care.”

Graham was allowed to go out for walks with his volunteer, so long as masks were worn and they stayed two metres apart.

Most volunteers are now allowed to resume duties in Level 2. Before then, Graham’s helper Michael was in a bubble of one.

“He and Graham have a great relationship and Michael actually rang me to ask if he could start back again. It’s lovely for Julia as she’s getting tired now as it’s been a few weeks,” said Susan.

Even when Julia does get a break, she usually just spends the time catching up on housework and odd jobs.

“Just doing the vacuuming is so hard when he’s here, so I usually do it when his volunteer comes. I don’t really do anything for myself anymore.”

The couple have three children spread across the country, so when they couldn’t get out for groceries in lockdown, their kids helped them out.

“We don’t have a computer so couldn’t do online shopping, but luckily my son was able to do it for us from Tauranga.”

Susan said some respite can be given under strict lockdowns, providing volunteers follow the bubble rules for people who are isolated and vulnerable, then some respite can be given. But Level 2 will make that much easier.

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