Guilt about not being a good enough carer, and worry and fear about what will happen to their loved one when they die are among the top concerns of older carers. Meanwhile one of the greatest causes of stress for older carers is the anxiety that the needs of the person they are caring for are not being met. That's according to new research from Independent Age, the older people's charity.
The report "You don't stop the worrying" The difficulties of caring in later life¹ shows the impact of caring on older people can be particularly acute and highlights:
- concerns about poor care and support from a range of providers including home care services and care homes
- that caring doesn't end when a loved one moves into a care home
- a 'health crash' for some carers following the death of the person they care for
- the impact of bereavement, as carers not only lose a loved one, but a whole way of life.
For the first time, in 2015, Carers Week² will include a special day dedicated to older carers. To mark the day, Independent Age commissioned a series of focus groups and interviews with older carers to explore their experiences in more detail. There are almost 1.3 million³ unpaid carers aged 65 and over in England and Wales and it's estimated that nearly 400,000 older carers in England provide round the clock care without any council support⁴.
While caring is challenging at any age, the report finds that older carers perceive that some of the impacts of caring are exacerbated by their age such as reduced income, the onset of long term medical conditions and fewer social networks. Older carers also made clear that they felt there was an important distinction between those who had stopped being carers due to bereavement, and those who felt they continued to care after their loved one moved into a care home.
Older Carers save the NHS and care system billions of pounds every year⁵. To keep their support sustainable, the report recommends that GPs could be used to help improve carers' access to support and that a lack of care and support to carers loved ones should be addressed. It also suggests developing a 'carers' friend' service which could help provide practical and emotional support to carers and improving support for bereaved carers.
Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said:
"Caring for a loved one can bring rewards and challenges at any age. Today's research highlights the particular concerns of those who are older themselves and whose voices are rarely heard. Older carers have told us about the physical, emotional, social and financial strain caring has on them. As our population ages, it's clear more must be done to support older carers at an early stage, not just because it is the right thing to do but because without them our health and social care system could start to fall apart."
Heléna Herlots, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:
"Older carers provide an enormous amount of care, however, as this research uncovers, this is often coming at a cost to their own physical and emotional wellbeing. Caring at any age can be challenging but from this research we see that older carers, who are more likely to have health problems of their own and smaller support networks, are particularly vulnerable to feeling isolated and fearful about the future. With the number of older carers continuing to rise and expected to reach over 1.8 million in England by 2030, it is clear more needs to be done to ensure older carers are identified and fully supported through, what can be, a very difficult time in their lives."
The report can be downloaded here.