Jean Kittson: “If you’re caring for a loved one, you need this.”

Free help, support and services for carers is closer at hand than you thought.
Jean Kittson in a gardenPhoto: Sophie Joyce

Actor, writer and comedian Jean Kittson is one of Australia’s most-loved personalities. Behind the scenes, Jean is a carer for her elderly parents, ensuring they have a strong support team to help with their daily household and personal care. She is also an advocate for Carer Gateway, an Australia-wide program that helps connect carers with practical and emotional support and services – a service Jean wishes she knew about 20 years ago, when she embarked on her own journey caring for her parents.

Here, Jean shares her lessons and learnings, in the hope of helping other carers.

There are 2.65 million Australians who are unpaid carers.  

Australian Women’s Weekly: You’ve had many roles in your career, but most people don’t know about your role as a carer to your parents, Elaine and Roy. What does this involve?

Jean Kittson: Mum turns 99 this December, and Dad is 96. It’s funny when you say “carer” because when I started looking after them, I didn’t think of myself as a carer. It helps when you realise that’s your role, because then you can understand what your responsibilities are and get the help you need.

Mum and Dad still live independently in their own unit. They are managing because they have a big team around them – doctors, therapists and people who help with showering, cleaning, shopping and evening meals. That’s one of my main responsibilities as their primary carer: to get a team in place that can fulfil their needs, and to be their advocate to make sure they are heard.

Tip: Carer Gateway offers free tailored support packages to help support you in your carer role. These might include cooking and cleaning services, assistance with shopping and transport, and planned respite so you can take a break.

You sound confident about what’s required now, but what was it like when you began this journey 20 years ago?

I didn’t know how to put it all in place. And whether they [my parents] were safe at home, or how to manage their health.

In 2020, you wrote the book We Need to Talk About Mum and Dad: A practical guide to parenting our ageing parents. What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

In the book I say we need a hub where people can learn about what services there are – that’s Carer Gateway [which was expanded to include the delivery of in-person services around the time the book was released]. It’s the hub that can connect you to all these physical and mental health services for carers including peer support, counselling, activities for your own wellbeing… and tips for making life that bit more manageable.

“My daughter works in youth in crisis. And they use Carer Gateway, because there’s a lot of young people who are carers for their parents or siblings and they don’t even recognise they are carers.”

Jean Kittson

How does a resource like Carer Gateway help a carer’s wellbeing?

Apart from the services, it’s important to feel like you’re not alone, that other people have gone through this.

If you could give one piece of advice to carers starting out, what would it be?

Get a team together. You don’t have to do everything, and Carer Gateway can help with that. Also, write down every conversation and appointment because you need a record of what’s going on. Someone who knows the number of the doctor, all the meds and so on.

What’s your favourite thing about this time with your parents?

Now that I’ve got all the services and support in place, I can just sit down and be with them. I help them with their banking and paying bills, but I’m not in that constant state of problem-solving and crisis control.

5 free Carer Gateway services carers can tap into

Visit anytime or call 1800 422 737 between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday for more information.

Photo credit: Sophie Joyce

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