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Older carers: taking time for yourself

Carer holding hands with an older person

How do older carers look after loved ones and take care of themselves? It’s a question faced by an increasing number of people. To mark the start of Carers Week, we look at the importance of taking a break from caring.

Many of us look forward to retirement as a chance to spend more time travelling or enjoying favourite leisure interests or trying new things we’ve never done.

But research by Age UK and Carers UK shows that almost 1.3 million people aged 65 or older are carers in the UK and the number of over 85-year-old carers has doubled in the past decade, to 87,000. One in three carers aged 65 to 74 give more than 50 hours of care a week. More than half of those aged over 85 do so.

The majority of carers over 65 are looking after a partner, although some are looking after elderly parents, or grandchildren, or relations with disabilities.

Taking a break from caring

Hubert, now 83, cared for his wife Phoebe for 12 years, while she suffered from advanced dementia. He said a positive attitude and taking breaks was vital:

‘Our three children were fantastic, even though they all had demanding full-time jobs. They would take it in turns to take her on holiday or have her to stay. That was the main break I got each year.

‘Phoebe also went to a day centre two or three times a week and I took those opportunities to do things locally. I kept very active in my neighbourhood. My advice to other people in a similar situation is to never allow yourself to wallow in self-pity. Get yourself involved in things which you can do.’

Asking for help

The right support needs to be in place to help older carers understand the support and benefits system, maintain social links and ensure their health is also looked after.

Family carers do an amazing job caring for partners and older relatives, allowing that person to remain in familiar and comfortable surroundings.

They often do this with little support, but there is help available. Our free site, Which? Elderly Care, gives advice on benefits that are available for carers, such as carers allowance, and how local authorities can help.

Are you an older carer looking after a relative or partner? What do you do to take a break from caring? What would help to make things easier for you?

Comments
Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I am glad this issue has been brought to the fore. For a long time I have been worried as I see so many people in their later years still struggling to cope with one or both of their parents and their husband or wife might also be disabled or infirm needing continuous support. Such people are often inhibited from seeking help from their local authority, or might have found that such support as was available was inadequate. The consequence is that their own health and mental well-being decline. Not everybody, possibly as few as half, have sons or daughters on hand who can help or share the burden.

Yesterday I saw a woman, in her early seventies I guess, heaving her father out of the car into a wheelchair and then struggling to push him towards the supermarket. She was exhausted. The wheelchair was poorly-designed for the purpose and looked quite old. Inside the store a young girl with a physical disability was whizzing about on a state-of-the-art powered mobility unit leaving her mother free to do the shopping. Her superb chair might have been provided by private funds or a charity but why should our elderly not be able to have such machines to make their own lives more comfortable and free their carers from some of the ardours of their role? A better use for the bus pass money in my opinion.

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Member

Interesting anecdote. SO the father must be in his 90’s!

I was assembling a mobility scooter today and they in themselves are pretty darn heavy. They also require a car large enough to carry the component parts. I have concerns that the duaghter would have the strength to manage the assembley etc.

I have considered that supermarkets could gain brownie points by assembling them and packing them back into the car. Sounds great but has practical difficulties in that you make an assumption that the 90 year old could drive the scooter. If he could what are the chances of driving into the legs of some poor shopper. And old age scooter rage has been reported.

Sorry if this seems slightly off-topic but it is a response to John’s suggestion.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

Yes, the father must have been in his nineties. He was pretty heavy too.

I think it is possible to get wheelchairs with power packs that would make it easier for an older person to steer and guide their relative without having to physically push them. These are less cumbersome than a mobility scooter but would probably still need an adapted vehicle to accommodate it. I didn’t see what sort of vehicle the young disabled girl came in but her machine was very sophisticated and they probably had a high-sided car-c*m-van with a power-assisted ramp or hoist system,

The perseverance and fortitude with which some elderly people are bearing these burdens with – apparently – very little support from the authorities never ceases to amaze me. I can’t see the succeeding generations being so psychologically equipped to sustain it.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

I wasn’t expecting the profanity filter to redact two letters in my text. To make sense of it please substitute “car/van combination”.

Profile photo of Zoe Galloway
Member

Hi John,

You raise an interesting point. It can be a very difficult time when older carers have to care for one or more relatives and we often hear about how a carer’s own health has suffered as a result. That is why it is so important for carers to have the right support and keep active in the community where possible. Our guide on taking a break from caring may help carers do this:

http://www.which.co.uk/elderly-care/your-relatives-needs/taking-a-break-from-caring

In terms of mobility, poorly designed wheelchairs can also be a hindrance! This guide on mobility products may also help:

http://www.which.co.uk/elderly-care/housing-options/dealing-with-poor-mobility/365192-choosing-and-buying-mobility-products