New sobering analysis published by Age UK as part of their fourth wave of research into the experiences of older people during the pandemic has found that life for many of because they are not getting enough time off from caring, and other forms of support that would help.
In the research older carers emerged as increasingly tired, anxious and struggling physically themselves: a greater proportion of older carers are finding it harder to manage everyday activities such as getting into and out of bed or dressing than before the pandemic, compared to the population of older people as a whole.
Age UK says that more needs to be done urgently to support older carers – and younger ones too – many of whom have been caring constantly throughout the pandemic without a decent break away from their responsibilities, while at the same time the needs of many of those for whom they are caring have increased.
More older carers are worried, tired and anxious
In Age UK’s research. four in five (80%, 1.4 million) carers worried about whether they would be able to keep caring or providing support.
* Three in five (59%) 1,060,000 had felt tired because of the care or support they provide.
* Almost half (48%) 860,000 of carers had felt anxious because of the care or support they provide.
* Three in ten (29%) 520,000 carers had felt overwhelmed because of the care or support they provide.
* One in six (16%) had felt lonely because of the care or support they provide. 290,000
For older carers life is harder
* More older carers (18%) were finding it harder getting into and out of bed than before the pandemic compared to non-carers (9%).
* And more older carers (18%) were finding it harder getting dressed or undressed than before the pandemic compared to non-carers (9%).
Age UK says the analysis shows how our crumbling social care system, along with insufficient support for carers, undermines their health and wellbeing, displaces pressure onto the NHS and makes it difficult or impossible for older and disabled people as well as their unpaid carers to live fulfilling lives. This would be worrying at the best of times, let alone in the aftermath of a pandemic which has pressurised our health services like never before and made care and support all the more vital for those in need of it.
Social care helps many people in different ways. For older people, it often provides them with support with washing, dressing and eating – commonly termed ‘personal care’. For unpaid carers, it is less challenging for them to carry out their responsibilities if good quality, reliable care services are also in place to back them up and if there are opportunities for them to take regular breaks, so they can recharge their batteries.
Age UK is calling on the Government for a series of measures to help the country’s army of unpaid older carers…
• the first being for them to ensure that they are able to get adequate breaks from caring. Many respite services closed during the pandemic because of fear of infection and anecdotally we hear that some have shut for good – there certainly seem to be considerably fewer residential respite, sitting and day services available compared to pre-spring 2020. Some older carers have also told us about not being able to afford respite where it is available, because charges have gone up so much.
• We are also calling for improved benefits for carers, as it’s incredibly difficult to manage on existing benefits, particularly if a household has high energy costs due to a need to keep the home warm and do frequent washing, as is often the case. The cost of living crisis is increasing older carers’ worry and anxiety.
• Better access to GPs is also needed, for older carers and the people they care for. Carers of all ages often neglect their own health because they put the person they are caring for first.
• In addition, Age UK believes that older carers should have access to counselling and other forms of support if they require it. Many are lonely and isolated, without social contacts, and with poor mental health as a result.
• Age UK would also like to see free Covid-19 testing for carers when rates are high, and better palliative care and coordination when the person they are caring for is nearing the end of their life, an especially stressful time for their carer too.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said:
“There are 1.8 million older people in the UK who are caring for a loved one and who continue to go above and beyond, many of whom kept going day in, day out, throughout the pandemic. Too often this has come at cost to their own health and wellbeing. These new figures show that older carers are in urgent need of support themselves, and Age UK is calling on the Government to provide it as a matter of urgency.
“Carers must have more help to care for their loved ones and the opportunity of a life beyond their caring responsibilities. Carers need breaks, financial help, good access to the NHS for themselves and the person they care for, and support to juggle work and care if they are employed.
“Investing in people who provide care for free, like the legions of older carers, makes huge sense because collectively they provide enormous quantities of support for the people they love. It’s no exaggeration to say that without them, our health and care system would completely collapse. All the evidence is that now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, carers are incredibly tired and in desperate need of more support. The morally right and pragmatic thing for Government to do is to provide it.”
“We know that in many places around the country support for carers has withered away over the last year or more, due to a combination of the pandemic plus the acute funding pressures in social care. Some are lucky and will have friends or relatives who can sometimes step in, but for others this won’t be an option, leaving them on their own. This means there must be considerable numbers of older people who are stuck 24/7 within their own four walls, at the cost of their own physical and mental health. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our older carers and this needs repaying with action – warm words from politicians are not enough. ”
As part of Carers Week 2022, Age UK launched a new campaign action, asking its supporters to join the call for a Recovery and Respite plan. While recognising the contributions of carers is only one part of Carers Week. Age UK asked its supporters to join the Carers Week call for a Recovery and Respite plan that would give carers the break they have needed, but haven’t had, since even before the pandemic began. Find out how you can spread the word below.