Sunday 22 April 2018

Giving carers a break – and points of support

Vicki Casserly and her son, James
Vicki Casserly and her son, James

THE Care and Mobility Show in Dublin will have a lot to offer carers, says Jennifer Graham of Carers Alliance Ireland, one of the organisations to host a stand at the show.

There will be free advice clinics for carers and professionals on a variety of topics including acquired brain injury, Alzheimer's, cerebral palsy, dementia, Huntington's, motor neuron disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's, arthritis and stroke rehabilitation.

The show will highlight how they can enhance the lives of those they care for, as well as their own lives, with effective products and services to promote independent living for the disabled and elderly.

The work of carers – there are about 400,000 in Ireland today, 350,00 of whom are unpaid – allows loved ones to remain in their home environment and saves the State and the health services money. Graham points out: "It's a very selfless role but carers can suffer from stress and health issues – they can be caring 15 hours a day seven days a week. It's a very intense role so the aim of Carer's Week is to give them a break," she says.

Vicki Casserly knows all about the strains of being a carer – when her son James was two, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

James, who is currently a first-class pupil at St Thomas's National School, needs round-the-clock assistance in everything from getting dressed in the morning to feeding and washing himself.

However, Vicki has always placed a strong emphasis on teaching him to do things for himself.

"You're as independent as you make yourself. It would be very easy to wrap him in cotton wool and do everything from him but that wouldn't do him any favours," she says.

Until he had neurosurgery two years ago at the age of six, James was unable to walk up the stairs at their home in Lucan – so Vicki, who was successful in her first-time bid as a Fine Gael candidate for the Lucan Palmerstown area in the recent local elections, taught him to go up and down on his bum.

"The important thing is that he could do it," recalls Vicki (34).

"He does well in school and has lots of friends. He gives everything his best and is very strong willed and determined and likes to give the best to everything – he has a can-do attitude."

Last November, she says proudly, the eight-year-old received a National Children of Courage award from the Share a Dream Foundation.

Vicki is a strong believer in independence, four years ago she was part of a group of parents who, in conjunction with South Dublin Co Council established a sports group for children with special needs and their siblings.

Called the South Dublin Gladiators, it offers members football with the FAI and tag rugby with Leinster Rugby as well as boxing, dancing and cricket.

James is mobile, and can walk independently for a short time, but uses the wheelchair for distance.

Independence is crucial for her son's quality of life, believes Vicki, a disability campaigner and former public servant.

She has thrown her support behind the Care and Mobility Show at the RDS because, she says: "The whole idea is to focus on what you can do. The focus is on promoting independence amongst people with disability of different types."

Now aged eight, James loves sports and really enjoys music – he's a big fan of everything from Eurovision to Jedward and One Direction. "For us it's about the way you look at things – James is a very happy boy. He's involved with the FAI and has met Trapattoni and the players."

* Tickets for the show are available at www.careandmobility.ie for €5, with €1 from the sale of each ticket going to Caring for Carers, a charitable organisation that supports over 160,000 family carers throughout Ireland.

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