Older carers need more support

Posted on: 12 September 2011 by Gareth Hargreaves

Elderly carers in the UK are ignoring risks to their own health rather than neglect the wellbeing of those they care for, according to a new report.

Older carerThe report, Always On Call, Always Concerned,  by the Princess Royal Trust, encourages doctors and social care professionals to offer older carers greater support, including health checks and screening for depression.

The charity says almost three quarters of those questioned in a survey said that their health was suffering because of their responsibilities.

While ministers concede that more work needs to be done to help older carers, no concrete policy or funding has been forthcoming.

Worryingly, the survey by the Princess Royal Trust included the admission from a third of respondents that they had cancelled operations or treatments because of their caring responsibilities, while half said their health had deteriorated in the past year.

Two thirds of carers have long term health problems 

Always On Call, Always Concerned highlights an alarming trend of carer experiences:

  • Carers aged 60–64 experience the most financial difficulty, often juggling work 
  • The majority of older carers report caring for 60 or more hours a week – particularly those carers aged 70 or over.
  • Two thirds of older carers have long term health problems or a disability themselves. Commonly reported conditions are arthritis and joint problems, back problems, heart disease, cancer and depression.
  • One third of older carers reported having cancelled treatment or an operation they needed due to their caring responsibilities.
  • Half of all older carers reported that their physical health had got worse in the last year and seven in ten said caring had had a negative impact on their physical health. 
  • More than four in ten older carers said their mental health had deteriorated over the last year.
  • Over three quarters of carers ages 60–69 said caring had a negative impact on their mental health.
  • Less than half of carers aged 70 and over who have to lift the person they care for do not feel they can do this safely and confidently. 
  • More than eight out of ten older carers have worries for the future, about what will happen to the person they care for if they can no longer care.
  • More than one third do not get breaks away from caring, and a further third get a break only once every 2–3 months or less

High profile support

Dame Judi Dench, Angela Rippon, Joanna Lumley and Alistair Campbell are among the well-known names supporting The Trust’s push to highlight the negative impact of caring on older carers’ health. Dame Judi Dench says: ‘Having been a carer myself, I understand the stresses and strains involved in looking after a loved one. There are many, many older carers around the country doing tremendous work looking after their family or friends but it’s often at a cost to the carer’s own health and well-being, as shown by this report from The Princess Royal Trust for Carers. Carers already save our economy billions and they need more support to enable them to continue in their caring role.’

The report also highlights how the pressures of caring impact on older carers in other ways, with seven out of ten (68.8%) saying that being a carer has an adverse effect on their mental health. Four in ten (42.9%) overall said that their mental health had deteriorated in the last year. But carers in the younger age group 60-69 seemed to be more at risk with almost half (48.3%) of this group reporting a deterioration in mental health. A major concern for eight out of ten older carers is what will happen to the person they care for in the future.

Moira Fraser, policy director at  the Princess Royal Trust, said: "Carers want to look after friends or family members - but often it's at the expense of their own health.

"We heard about people with crumbling spines, heart problems and cancer. Sometimes people's knees are so worn out they feel as though they can't walk at the end of each day.

"Others suffer from mental problems - such as stress and exhaustion. They worry about the future and have feelings of hopelessness."

She added: "One woman needed an ankle replaced, but she had to put off the operation because it would have meant being in plaster for three months.

"We hear positive words from the authorities. The important thing is for funding to make it through to a local level."

There are thought to be six million carers in the UK, saving the economy billions of pounds. Many of them are over retirement age, yet their work is largely ignored and they are increasingly disadvantaged in the quality of service they can expect when they need help themselves.

More information

Carers can get help by visiting their local Carers’ Centre or by going online at Carers.co.uk

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