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More freedom to keep caring

Judith and her husband Bill. Judith has been caring for Bill for nearly 10 years.

Perth woman Judith Barrett had been caring for her husband for nearly 10 years when she first heard Red Cross offers local respite care.

Judith says she'll never forget being told of the service.

"When they told me I said, "How come we won lotto! I couldn't believe it! " Judith says.

For more than a decade, Judith's husband, Bill, 76, who has had a stroke, is blind and has Parkinson's disease, has been dependent on Judith, 71, for around the clock, seven-day-a-week care. Apart from the daily visit of a carer to shower her husband, Judith is not able to leave him.

"So I'm fairly restricted," she says.

Karla Hampshire from Red Cross Community Programs, Western Australia said it's vital that people who are full-time unpaid carers take some time for themselves.

"According to 2012 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics there are 770,000 primary carers in Australia, and just under half of them are caring for someone with a disability. Carers should have the same choices and opportunities as anyone else but we know this is impossible for most," Ms Hampshire said.

"Red Cross works with carers so they and the people they care for attain a better quality of life, in line with our commitment to an inclusive society where all people are valued, their differences are respected and their basic needs are met."

Now Judith has opted to have her own "me time" in the form of a three-hour art class and two hours of croquet each week.

"The funding has given me the freedom to think about options outside my usual routine," she says.

"At first the concept of being given the freedom to choose activities outside the 'norm' was a shock as it was something I had shut out of my life as not being possible.

"After a short time I began to realise I had some control over my life and slowly developed ideas and activities I could pursue as well as buying items to make my husband's life more comfortable."

Judith says she doesn't see her caring role as onerous.

"I didn't have respite for the first seven years. Everyone was pushing me to have respite but I felt I could manage. But eventually it gets to the stage where you think maybe they're right and so I took the plunge.

"Eventually I realised I needed it. Without the respite, truly, I'd probably be in hospital somewhere…put away I think," she laughs. "It just makes so much difference.

Judith says she gets enormous benefit from her art classes.

"You just concentrate on what you're doing and you can switch off. It takes a bit of practice but eventually you can switch off and concentrate on what you're doing.

Judith's advice to people who, like her, are caring for a loved one?

"Definitely you need respite. It's the way you can keep going."

And her experience with Red Cross?

"Absolutely brilliant! From the time we were first given this great gift as I call it, like winning lotto, I've been able to just ring them up and we work out the most beneficial ways to use the funds I've been given."

Photo: Sarah Landro/Australian Red Cross