According to the 2011 census, there were almost 1,700 family carers in the county of Longford.
Maureen Donohoe from North Longford is just one of those carers.
Maureen has looked after her daughter Elizabeth, who has an intellectual disability, for the past 32 years.
Taking a short break from a weekly Carers Association Meeting, Maureen told the Leader how her life has changed since becoming a carer.
“It meant that I always had to be there. Elizabeth, even as good as she is - and she is very good - she still needs supervision.”
Elizabeth attends St Christopher’s five days a week, a service Elizabeth says they would be ‘lost’ without.
“We lived in Dublin and Elizabeth went to Stewarts in Palmerstown first,” Maureen continued. “We came down to live in Longford and she went to the special class in the convent in Longford but she fell back, she wasn’t able for it.
“She was about ten, I’d say, when she went into St Christopher’s and she never looked back, she’s in it since.
“She loves it, she absolutely loves it,” Maureen smiled, adding, “I can’t say enough for St Christopher’s, they’re absolutely brilliant.”
Of course, the funding issues that have affected St Christopher’s in the past number of months have been worrying, but Maureen was quick to point out that her case is not the worst, referring to her fellow carers, who continue to chat nearby.
Some of them, she mentioned, had physically and intellectually disabled loved ones to care for, with little or no support.
“If they weren’t caring for them, who would?” she added.
The group, which meets for two hours every Friday in the Longford Arms Hotel, is a welcome, albeit brief, break for the carers, and Maureen, for one, enjoys being a part of it.
“I look forward to every Friday morning so much and we have different little outings ourselves,” she said, going on to add that “we’re all good friends as well as just being a group together.”
Though it undoubtedly has its challenges, being a carer is not something that Maureen would change, and she admitted, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Denise Nolan, Area Manager with the Carers Association pointed out that the figures in the 2011 census are likely modest figures as many people don’t recognise themselves as carers.
“People will say ‘I’m not a carer because I’m not in receipt of that [carers’] payment’, but that’s not it. If you’re providing full-time care regardless of whether you’re getting the payment or not, you’re still a family carer,” Denise continued.
“It’s important for people to know that we’re here to support them as well. We’re always looking for new members to come and join the group and the group are really open to bringing in new members and supporting family carers.”
Organisations are extremely important for the health of carers too, Denise believes. Often, caring can be an isolating role, as carers are at home all the time and have no outlet.
“The group itself tries in some way to overcome that a little bit,” Denise added.
Pointing out that family carers save the state millions of Euro a year, Denise also stated that Carers’ Allowance is difficult to get and relies heavily on the physical side of things. “It’s not a very fair system,” she added.
This week, the Association marks National Carers Week, and Denise explained, “Carers Week is about celebrating the work that family carers do”.
A number of events have been organised locally to mark the week, including a health fair in Hannon’s Hotel, Roscommon today, Wednesday; a Mind Your Mental Health Wellness Programme in the Longford Arms Hotel on Friday, June 12 and a social afternoon of music, dancing and food at the Hudson Bay Hotel, Athlone from 2pm - 6pm this Sunday, June 14.
For more information on the events, or to find out more about the local branch of the Carers Association, contact Denise on 044 93 47922.
All carers are also welcome to the weekly gatherings from 11pm - 1pm in the Longford Arms Hotel each Friday.