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Caring role is damaging many elderly carers’ health

GPs ‘should proactively target carers’ and offer them health checks, urges charity

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

More than half of elderly people who are carers for family members risk their own health suffering as a result, according to a survey by the UK’s largest charity for unpaid carers. Carers Trust reported this morning that well over four in every five elderly carers had health problems of their own, and it urged GPs to proactively target these patients and offer them health checks.

The charity commissioned a survey of carers older than 65, in October and November, and 422 people responded. This revealed that a high proportion of older carers are themselves sick or disabled – 86% reported health problems of their own, of whom two-thirds (67%) attributed their health problem to their caring role. In addition, three-quarters (75%) said their caring role meant they had had to give up an activity they enjoyed, and 46% said they had stopped an activity because they didn’t want to leave the person for whom they cared.

The survey also showed:

  • 56% cared around the clock; just under a fifth cared for more than 50 hours a week;
  • 57% had cancelled or postponed their own doctor’s or hospital appointments because of their caring role;
  • 81% said they felt lonely and isolated, and 83% said their loneliness and isolation was having a negative impact on their health.

In the light of its findings, Carers Trust is calling for carers to be offered more support so they can look after their own health as well as caring for others – allowing them to stay well and get the medical care they need themselves, thus preventing future crises. It urged GPs “to target carers and proactively invite them for a health check”. It also called for elderly carers to be offered more flexible medical appointments, to allow them to fit appointments around the available replacement care.

The charity said local authorities should work with their local clinical commissioning groups and health and wellbeing boards to use their authority to help identify carers earlier and prevent poor health in the future.

Its CEO Gail Scott-Spicer commented: “We have a generation of older people over the age of 65 who are carrying out one of the toughest roles there is – caring 24/7 for their husbands, wives and adult children. Some are sick or disabled themselves. There simply isn’t enough support for them so the least we can do is help them to look after their own health. If they become seriously ill too, the person they care for will go downhill which means a bleak future all round.”

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