Today our research report on providing unpaid care in later life is published, bringing the voices of older carers into the foreground for the final day of Carers Week. There are 1.3 million carers aged over 65 in England and Wales with nearly half of them providing round-the-clock care for loved ones. Our aim was to look beyond the statistics and listen to what older carers had to say about their lives and the help and support they need. We spoke to nearly 30 carers who were caring for adult children, a spouse or other family member, often full-time.
Our report paints a picture of the challenges of caring, and how the physical and emotional strains can be especially hard for older carers. Older carers said they struggled to take care of their own physical health and at the same time felt a huge emotional pressure to provide the right care for their loved one.
“But you feel guilty sometimes that you're struggling, you're working to get things for the people you're caring for and you think, ‘Maybe I'm going about it the wrong way’, so you feel guilty, then you feel low in yourself.”
One older woman described caring as so much harder when you’re older because “you’re very alone”. On top of this, people felt very anxious about a time in the future when they might not be able to care for their loved ones – for one mother the hardest thing was her adult son asking, “Mum when you’re not there what am I going to do?”
This worry about whether a loved one’s needs are being met (or will be in the future) tended to override people’s concerns about their own health needs, physical or emotional. And unfortunately finding out about and getting some kind of support put in place was seen as ‘haphazard’ with people stumbling on information by chance. Where care and support was in place, people tended to worry about quality and reliability, and about cuts to services.
“Every time something's taken away from a person you care for or threatened to be taken away… that puts stress on the carers. It's not themselves, it's the people they're caring for.”
And as our report title says, ‘you don’t stop the worrying’ even when a loved one moves into residential care or supported accommodation.
Hearing about these experiences, it’s clear that there are missed opportunities to reach and support older carers. Our report makes a number of suggestions to address this:
- Voluntary organisations should look at building on the Carers Friend approach to provide older carers with someone who can ‘stand alongside’ carers, providing practical help, advice and emotional support
- Local authorities need to ensure that older carers are enabled to make a contingency plan for the future care of their loved ones if they can no longer care for them
- The health and social care system needs to reach older carers and intervene early to provide support, to prevent the development of ill-health. GPs can play an important role in identifying carers and signposting them to support.