Behind closed doors millions of people are caring for a relative or loved one. Of those millions, high percentages are older carers with their own health needs. Caring is a full time position with a lot of responsibility – but what does it take to be an older carer?
We all grow old sooner or later. Some of us might be fit and fighting at ninety or in need of additional support at sixty. When it comes to caring we all want to do the best for our friends and family, but as an older carer this responsibility can be problematic.
Despite support and assistance from healthcare professionals and charities caring as an older person is challenging.
Margaret Dangoor gradually started caring for her husband Eddie after he began to show certain signs of dementia. Coming home from walks late, getting on the wrong bus to asking Margaret to write down notes because he couldn’t remember certain dates and times. For ten years Margaret has cared for Eddie and watched his gradual decline to complete dependency – this has been a learning curve.
“When you come to caring as an older person it’s not like you’ve been doing it all your life – you had a child who was disabled and started at that end of your life. You’re suddenly finding that you’re perhaps not even well yourself. A lot of carers are vulnerable themselves and disabled struggling to look after their partner, and it’s so fresh to them,” explains Margaret.
Aged 78, Margaret has had some experience of care having volunteered with various charities for over 25 years – many people do not have this luxury. Caring for someone, especially as an elderly person possibly with their own additional needs, is a daunting prospect. Dementia is a progressive condition that can cause severe mood swings, confusion and moments of feeling disturbed all this can be a difficult responsibility to come to terms with. “When someone develops dementia it’s not something the average person knows much about,” says Margaret. “Even if you’re quite well informed you really don’t know how to start. To a certain extent you shy away from it and you want to continue your normal life. It is often when you’re in a crisis that you want help and the first thing that you do is go to your GP.”
From the point of diagnosis, or before, the emotional pressure of being an older carer can be troublesome. There is also no denying that the older generation are fiercely independent – for some asking for help is not an option.
Caring is a large responsibility and one that is new to many people and older carers may have their own additional needs. Margaret helps organise a dementia care group for fellow older carers and has seen the pressure applied to some attendees.
“They come into the group and they’ve got rheumatoid arthritis themselves and they’re looking after their partner with dementia. You do it because it comes on gradually like old age does and you keep going. A lot of people are living in very difficult situations being old and frail and not really wanting any help,” explains Margaret. There is a hidden generation of older carers providing levels of care they may have not delivered before.
Looking after a loved one is not only emotionally taxing it can be costly. Statistics from Carers UK show that carers save the economy £132 billion per year for caring independently – saving on average £19,336 per carer. Putting that into perspective highlights the financial cost that goes into caring. Something many people would not consider.
Margaret explains: “My situation is as good as it could be but it has taken a lot of effort and a lot of money. I have spent over £110,000 on my husband’s care over the years. I was paying £3,000 a month before he went onto continued care, which is NHS funded, but I still pay additional because they don’t cover me if I go to meetings.” Being an active member of the community and voice for older carers, Margaret regularly attends meetings and conferences to raise awareness about being an older carer. For this luxury she has had to pay extra for external carers to look after Eddie.
Attendance to a specialist care centre costs Margaret £70 per day but the benefit for Eddie makes the cost a necessity. The financial cost of caring is just one of the additional stresses that comes with care.
Margaret explains: “You’re on this journey with different symptoms at different times then at the same time keeping your home going, paying bills which you might not be used to doing in the past – it is the issue of taking on all the responsibility plus the significant caring responsibility. We’re all going to get older it is a passage through life. We all have demands at different stages. Caring for ourselves, caring for our grandchildren, caring for our partners and it needs to be recognised that actually we’re doing a great job behind those closed doors. We’re not a burden.”
Everyone is dedicated to bringing the best of care to their loved ones but this care comes with many additional responsibilities. Emotionally, financially and physically being an older carer is a full-time role – and this is a role many of us may find ourselves in.