‘The self-sacrifice that carers make on a daily basis is immense’
Health hero: Paula Robinson is full-time carer for her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, and her father, who has bowel cancer
Paula Robinson from Cavan was announced as Ireland’s CarePlus Pharmacy Carer of the Year 2017. Photograph: Mark Stedman
Paula Robinson lives in Cootehill, Co Cavan, with her husband John, daughter Cara (21) and son Sean (15). As well as being there for her husband and children, she also takes care of her parents.
Last year, the mother-of-two was announced as Family Carers Ireland Carer of the Year as she provides round-the-clock, full-time care for both her mother, Mary (85), who has Alzheimer’s disease and her father, Jimmy (92), who is living with bowel cancer.
We spoke to this health hero to find out what makes her tick and what she would like to see happen to make Ireland a better place for all of us.
What is your proudest achievement?
“I would have to say it was being acknowledged as the overall Careplus Carer of the Year in 2017.”
What motivates you in your work and life?
“Caring for my mum and dad is a full-time job and over the years their needs have progressively increased. When they first came to live with me, it was possible to get away for a night or two, but now I don’t really get to do that so much. My daughter Cara is older now and is in her third year doing psychiatric nursing, so along with her, my husband and son, I am well supported and can turn to them on the tough days. Every now and then, I will get this big spark of my parents as I remembered them. These moments go a long way in helping to get through the harder days. So the care I provide to them, with the help of my family, is really a labour of love because my parents were always so loving and kind.”
What do you do to keep mind and body healthy and well?
“I try to get out and go for a walk but I have plenty of friends who would say I don’t get out often enough. Along with this, it’s a real treat to get out for a meal, maybe an Indian, and spend time meeting my friends to have a chat. It’s important to have some space for yourself where you can detach from your role for a little while. I also have great home-help carers who come in to give respite and it alleviates a lot of the stress and pressure.”
What are the most important factors to maintain a healthy society?
“Equality of care across the board for family carers and those who are cared for is really important. I have heard stories of so many young carers who are all still in their teens and the assistance they provide to their loved ones is awe-inspiring because they give up so much. All family carers have to make sacrifices but when you are young, the sacrifices that you make are worlds apart from those of an adult.”
What needs to be done in Ireland to achieve this?
“The self-sacrifice that carers make on a daily basis is immense. Their role needs to be acknowledged properly as it can take a huge toll emotionally, physically and financially. Family carers make up a large number of the Irish population so a lot more needs to be done to support us in our role.”
6) What do you think is the most pressing health issue in Ireland today?
“It has to be both the care of the elderly and young family carers. There needs to be more help in the community and funding allocated to facilitate this. I feel that there needs to be a consistent and decent rate of pay for professional carers to attract more people to the job and as a result allow family carers to take proper respite breaks.
“Incentives should be put into place which would encourage them to take on the role as if they were happier it would give people like me more of a break when we need it.”
How do you think the Minister for Health needs to tackle this?
“There really should be more support and relief available for young carers, whether it is a holiday or just time away from their day-to-day carer role to spend time being a young person.”
What do you do to relax and unwind?
“When the day is winding to a close, it really is nice to sit and watch TV and take a few moments for myself. It’s also a real treat to go out for dinner. We recently went on the carer respite weekend with Family Carers Ireland, which was great, particularly as before you even consider doing something like that there is so much that needs to be organised.”
What makes you laugh?
“It’s so important that you always have to find something to laugh at. For me, it’s the glimpses of Mum and Dad as they once were and their sense of humour that can sometimes peep through in little moments. You have the find the funny side of things. If Dad has done something that upsets me, I will try and find the humour in it and know that tomorrow is another day. When they have these hard days, I always remind myself that they were never like that. They were always so kind and so lovely and it’s someone else there now. I just smile, go in, give them a kiss and get on with it.”
Where would you like to live other than Ireland and why?
“I love Ireland. My parents were from here originally but they ended up meeting each other in Coventry. We would come over here every year as children to visit family and then I ended up meeting an Irish man and now my children are Irish. I’ve been here for 22 years now and where we are in Cavan is fabulous, so there really is no other place I would rather live.”
- Do you know a Health Hero? Every week, we will honour one of the people deserving of the hero tag. If you would like to nominate someone, go to irishtimes.com/healthheroes
Our Health Heroes
1 - Martin Nevin: Even unwashed and medicated up to my eyes, Martin makes me feel beautiful
2 - Maureen Durcan: That so many live on the poverty line in Ireland is incredibly sad
3 - John Burke: Managing mental health should not be like climbing a mountain
4 - Derek Devoy: The Kilkenny taxi man whose drive saves lives
5 - Sarah Fitzgibbon: Society has to stop treating the marginalised and disabled as charity cases
6 - Kathleen King: I wanted to make sure no one else would have to wait nine years for a diagnosis
7 - Caoimhe Bennett: The schoolgirl raising understanding about young carers
8 - Ann Norton: Our hospitals are a disgrace. We are letting down our doctors, nurses and whole society
9 - Una McNicholas: My proudest achievement is being able to help care for my sister
10 - Catherine Cox: Family carers are a hidden army of exceptional people fulfilling a role they did not ask for
11 - Prof Rose Anne Kenny: Good friendships make for a healthy life as much as regular exercise and healthy diet
12 - Dr Robert O’Connor: Within my lifetime we could eradicate cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine and screening
13 - Claire Cahill and Michelle Long: Scoliosis campaigners battling to reduce waiting times for children
14 - Prof Donal O’Shea: The shocking fact is that most ill-health now comes from our lifestyle
15 - Nuala Geraghty: Every time we place a dog, it’s like giving new life to each family
16 - Mavis Ubuntu: Cooking was a right that was taken away from us
17 - Krysia Lynch: A healthy society starts in utero
18 - Paula Robinson: The self-sacrifice that carers make on a daily basis is immense