Education And Debate

Caring for Older People: Carers

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 24 August 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:482
  1. Anne F Travers, senior registrar in public health medicinea
  1. a Bradford Health Authority, Shipley BD18 3LD

    Caring by families and friends is the backbone of community care. Carers face physical, emotional, social, and financial problems. They need recognition, information, and support from the health professionals with whom they and the person they care for come in contact. Much information is available to assist carers and to enable their doctors to help them in their caring role.

    “The primary sources of support and care for elderly people are informal and voluntary. These spring from the personal ties of kinship, friendship and neighbourhood.… Care in the community must increasingly mean care by the community.”

    Growing Older, 19814

    Since the 1950s there has been a gradual shift in the provision of care from hospitals to care in the community. A large proportion of community care is “informal,” provided mainly by family. The general household surveys of 1985 and 1990 showed that there are as many as six million carers in Great Britain, providing varying degrees of care. The transition to the caring role is often slow, following the older person's physiological decline and gradual accumulation of diseases. However, some people are precipitated into caring for an older person—for example, when that person suffers a stroke.

    Who cares?

    Caring is an activity spanning all age groups. There is increasing concern over (and action for) young carers. The peak age for caring is the fifth to seventh decades, but many older people are carers. Over a third of informal care to people over 65 is provided by people over 70. One third of older people can expect to become carers during retirement; they are more likely to provide intimate care and heavy nursing tasks and to care for a spouse.

    Both men and women care, although men are considerably less likely to become carers. Once they have become carers, men and women …

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