Opinion

Recognising the ‘silent masses’

Morgan Vine

Recognising the role of older people in a caring society

Covid-19 has impacted all of our lives in the last 12 months, but one group that has faced a unique set of challenges is older carers. Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age, tells us more about the role older people play in a caring society.

Approximately one in five older people in England are carers.

Prior to the pandemic, our research found that around 400,000 older people were providing care full-time (more than 35 hours a week), and 1.5 million were providing care part-time (up to 34 hours a week).

Undoubtedly, these numbers will have increased during lockdown. With paid carer visits reducing or stopping, more and more older people will have taken on caring responsibilities for the people closest to them.

It’s important to recognise this invaluable contribution that people in later life are making, but it’s also vital to recognise that they need adequate support.

We know caring responsibilities can dominate someone’s life, placing a huge strain on both their physical and mental health.

Interviews conducted by Independent Age in 2019 found that many older people are caring for more than one person, including older parents, a partner or adult children. Their wellbeing was often significantly affected because they did not prioritise their own health and emotional needs.

Isolation is another theme that comes up repeatedly. Full-time carers told us they miss out on social activities, including volunteering opportunities and seeing friends. Their freedom is often limited and carers feel they can’t go too far from home for long.

Caring during the pandemic

Margaret was a carer for over 20 years

Margaret cared for her both her mother and husband for more than 20 years. She remains involved with the ‘carer community’ at a local and national level and told us more about some of the challenges people will be facing during the pandemic.

“The life of carers is extremely difficult at the moment.

“When I was caring for my husband both he and I gained significant enjoyment from visiting  friends and family. The activities that gave us a quality of life would not possible for most people during this crisis.

“I do know of carers who have reached crisis point and under normal circumstances would be arranging respite care or even permanent care for their loved one in a residential home. This has not been possible, due to the crisis situation in the residential sector.”

In normal times, Margaret runs a Caring Café in her local community, which she describes as a lifeline to many.

“Since the coronavirus (COVID19) isolation measures were introduced, the Caring Café has been unable to meet, leaving a significant gap in the lives of people who attended so regularly. In order to keep in touch with our members, we have been conducting calls or sending emails, either for a chat or to offer practical support. We introduced online video meetings for our carers to at least be able to engage at a distance.”

Margaret wants to see recognition for the millions of older people in caring roles.

“Recognition of the complexity of being a family carer at this time does matter to carers – just as recognition of the value of those working in the NHS and in social care does. Family carers are the silent masses and where would the NHS or social care be without them?”

Support for older carers

As the vaccination roll-out continues, there is light at the end of the tunnel for older carers, with the hope that activities like Margaret’s café will be able to resume and respite care will become a more viable option again.

But for many, the emotional and physical toll of increased caring responsibilities during the pandemic will have a longer lasting impact.

At Independent Age, we continue to campaign to improve the support available  and offer information and support for older people in a caring role.

We want to see more people being offered a carers assessment to establish their own support needs, separate to the person they care for. We are also calling for respite options like day centres to be opened as soon as it is safe to do so.

For information and support, see independentage.org or call the charity’s helpline – 0800 319 6789

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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