The number of people in their 80s or older who are relied on as carers has rocketed in the last seven years, according to a new report.
Age UK says one in seven of the “oldest old” – an estimated 417,000 people in all – now provides some sort of unpaid care to family or friends.
More than half of these 80-plus-year-olds clock up more than 35 hours a week.
Carers’ Resource Director Chris Whiley says the message to older carers is to seek support before ‘breaking point’ and to look after their own health.
“Caring can be demanding, relentless and exhausting – whatever the age. For all carers we constantly remind them to make sure they’re looking after themselves, and to even put their own health first.
“If they fall ill and can’t cope, or have to have treatment or even go into hospital, then the situation can become even more challenging and difficult for both involved.
“Carers often neglect themselves and put the person their caring for first. Their health can deteriorate and some also find themselves depressed, isolated and stressed out.
“But it’s important all carers try to get as much support as possible, and as soon as they can, so they can care with confidence and make it a positive experience.
“Whether it’s help finding specialist equipment, a leisure activity or special interest group, or help filling in forms, or just someone to sit with their loved one while they have a break – we can help them with all of this.
“One of the key issues is also that people don’t realise they’re a carer.
They don’t identify themselves a carer and say ‘she’s my wife,’ ‘he’s my brother,’ ‘it’s what I do,’ – and on many occasions we don’t see carers until they’re at breaking point.
“When we find a carer each situation is unique. Being a carer is never planned and often the caring role can be sudden, and in the case of older carers it can be something which gradually evolves as their spouse, sibling or friend becomes frail or develops a condition, such as dementia, arthritis or a life-limiting illness.
“Once people are aware they are carers they can then start to get a package of support on board – and we’ll help them every step of the way.”
The findings come from a yearly representative household survey of 15,000 people aged 60 and older. The results were multiplied to give an estimate for the whole of the UK.
In 2009, an estimated 301,000 people in their 80s were carers. That figure has now risen by nearly 40%, largely due to an ageing population but partly due to a lack of state support, says Age UK.