Carer’s journey inspires fight for services in the Pilbara

20 October 2011

Corry Ade_and_Mum

Adrianne Catlin never planned on being a carer. But three years ago when her mother started a steep and heartbreaking decline into dementia, she suddenly found herself taking on that role.

“I didn’t want to be a carer, I wanted to be a daughter, and my role changed,” said Mrs Catlin, a mother with three adult sons living in Karratha in Western Australia.

Her mother, Maria Vandenbroek, 77, moved to the Pilbara in 1967 from Holland with her husband Kees who passed away in 1979.

Mum _the_boys

“Because Mum has always lived near us, we are a really close-knit family,” said Mrs Catlin. “And she loves her grandchildren. She was always doing stuff with my sons when they were growing up. If I couldn’t be there, she was there. She is very friendly and very open to people. Everyone loves mum.”

“When things changed, because they changed so quickly, it was a major shock.”

Like her mother, Mrs Catlin has a background in the hospitality industry. She and her husband, Adrian, run a retail and commercial bakery business. Mrs Catlin is also a trainer for the corporate and hospitality sector with frequent business trips to Asia.

She remembers being overseas when she received an urgent phone call about her mother.

“Mum had turned, something happened, no one could say what, but all of a sudden I had a psychologist on the phone and Mum was saying she was alone, that she had no family in Karratha and nobody cared about her.”

Mrs Catlin returned home early from her business trip to be with her mother. Over the next three years, her dementia set in and progressively became worse.

“All of a sudden, Mum became extremely needy. She started to stay with us six out of seven nights. If she was not staying here, she would come around at eight o’clock and stay here all day. She became really depressed when no one was with her. She would walk back and forth from the shopping centre all day just so she could talk to people. ”

“Then she started forgetting things - who she was and where she was.”

“I stopped doing what I was doing. It affected my career but hey - it was my mother - that’s what you do. I just needed to be close to her.”

Mrs Catlin sought assistance. Initially she received some support as part of a Community Aged Care Package for her mother but the six hours a week provided was not nearly enough.

“I would get 15 to 20 phone calls a day. Mum would be asking me ‘when are you coming here’ or ‘I need you to come and pick me up’.”

“The stress was really awful because I just didn’t know what to do. The situation affected the entire family in a lot of ways.”

Then Mrs Catlin came across the Frontier Services Pilbara Mobile Respite Service – a mobile service that travels across the Pilbara to provide respite to carers in remote areas.

“Frontier Services was a lifesaver. (Respite Coordinator and Worker) Judy and Michael Drayton were amazing,” she said.

The Draytons travelled to Karratha twice to provide several days respite for Mrs Catlin. They were also able to offer advice, provide more information about dementia and about what other services were available. In between providing respite they would phone Mrs Catlin to check on how she was doing.

“A support network had started growing. That was really amazing, it assisted me greatly.”

“By this time Mum was really dependent and really needy. It got to a situation where… I was falling apart.”

At this point, Mrs Catlin realised she needed a longer term solution. This is when she experienced her deepest anguish – the decision to find a residential aged care facility for her mother to live in permanently.

“It was something I never wanted to do. I was really distraught and would spend nights crying about it. I never thought I would have to make that decision - I never even thought I would have to think about it.”

But what caused the most pain – and still grieves Mrs Catlin - was that there was not an appropriate residential aged care facility anywhere close to Karratha.

She eventually found her mother a place in an aged care facility in York, 100km outside of Perth – more than 1500km from Karratha.

“We should never have had to do that. If we had respite services in Karratha, we would have had Mum here with us for longer.”

Devastated by her own experience, Mrs Catlin has thrown her energy into the fight for more services to be available for other carers in the Pilbara. Her greatest wish is for her mother to return to Karratha before she dies.

“What concerns me is that there are a lot of other people going through this. I do not think anything prepares you for it. All of a sudden, you’re not a daughter, you’re a dictator. Dementia is cruel, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that we don’t have services here and we need them.”

At a meeting of the Shire of Roebourne last week, Mrs Catlin publicly called for more aged care and respite services. She has also begun contacting politicians to bring about change.

Mrs Catlin wants a residential aged care facility in Karratha that provides for low and high level care. She has also called for a community hub – a central location for a variety of service providers to help bring more services to the town and reduce the extremely high rental costs for non-profit organisations.

“People say nobody old lives in the Pilbara, that’s not true. A lot of people have had to send loved ones away or have moved away because they do not have services.”

“We need these services. Families should not be split up just because the services are not there. It’s really important – it’s something I’m not going to give up on!”

Frontier Services Regional Manager WA Patricia Thomson-Harry said it was extremely difficult for families who were torn apart because they could not access the services they need in remote areas like the Pilbara.

“You can see the stress and strain is absolutely enormous for people like Adrianne. To be able to provide respite in these situations really makes a difference. Our respite services are there for people to access. If you need help, please give us a call,” said Ms Thomson-Harry.

Ms Catlin is one of 2.6 million unpaid family carers in Australia being celebrated this week as part of Carer’s Week from 16-22 October.

Found out more at

Frontier Services has a variety of programs which support carers living in remote Australia including the Pilbara Mobile Respite Services that covers 600,000sq km reaching the remote communities of Marble Bar, Nullagine, Jigalong Community and western desert communities, Tom Price, Onslow, Karratha and Newman.