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There are now more than 2.5 million unpaid carers in Australia – many of whom don’t even realise they’re 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’.

Caring includes all aspects of physical and personal care, such as dressing, lifting, showering, feeding or providing transport. Carers also provide emotional, social or financial support.

These people who look after family, relatives and friends are an integral part of Australia’s health structure. They’re the foundation of the country’s aged, disability, palliative and community care systems.

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Chemists can help

Carers are usually responsible for the management of medications, and the role also involves helping the person they’re 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 people with disability, chronic illness, mental illness or who are classified as frail aged.’

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, George Tambassis

Caring stress

Mr Tambassis said the stress of caring could make a significant contribution to the deteriorating health and wellbeing of carers.

‘It’s 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.’

This includes ‘information about include respite services, counselling, peer support, and carer training opportunities,’ said Mr Tambassis.

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Medication management

Carers are often responsible for purchasing and administering a range of pharmacy products on behalf of the person or people they care for.

Mr Tambassis said, ‘This includes prescription and non-prescription medications as well as wound management and specialist hygiene products, and aids and equipment.’

He 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. They also have to watch expiry dates and monitor and report side effects.

‘Times at which medication management is likely to be particularly challenging are when medications change, particularly after discharge from hospital,’ he said.

‘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.’

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Wading through the health system

Mr Tambassis said another challenge 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,’ he said.

‘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,’ said Mr Tambassis.