Many very elderly people are being cared for by their children, themselves at an age at which they might have expected care.
For more than a decade, 71-year-old Harry Seymour has been the sole carer for his 106-year-old mother, Edith. Divorced and childless, Seymour moved in with his mother in 2005. Four years later, she was diagnosed with dementia.
â€œI didnâ€™t expect to be my motherâ€™s carer at all, and certainly not at the age I am now,â€ he said, â€œbut there was no choice. We were a very close family but theyâ€™re all dead now. I donâ€™t consider that Iâ€™ve sacrificed the years Iâ€™ve spent looking after mum though; itâ€™s the natural thing to do.â€
The number of centenarians in the UK has quadrupled in the past 30 years, according toÂ the latest figuresÂ from the Office for National Statistics. In the past decade alone, the number of people reaching the age of 100 has increased by 71%. The number of people over 90 has nearly trebled over the past 30 years.
The rise means there are increasing numbers of very old people being cared for by their children â€“ themselves at an age at which they might have expected to be cared for, rather than to care for others.
Elderly filial carers are an under-researched group, but academics atÂ University College LondonÂ studying the over-50 population of England have found evidence that about one in 20 of those aged over 50 are caring for a grandparent, parent or parent-in-law.
According to separate research byÂ Age UK, a third of the UKâ€™s 6 million carers are aged 65 and over, and the number of carers aged 75 and over has increased by 35% since 2001. Over the past seven years, the number of carers aged 80 and over has increased from 300,000 to 417,000 â€“ and continues to rise, the study found.
Dr Alisoun Milne, a professor in social gerontology and social work at the University of Kent, said elderly filial carers were a growing but under-recognised group. â€œElderly, frail sons and daughters looking after very elderly and very frail parents are a neglected cohort,â€ she said. â€œBut itâ€™s crucial that we start to find out more about them, otherwise their distinctive needs wonâ€™t be met and both child and parent will end up in crisis.â€
Louise Mark, an older carers policy officer for theÂ Carers Trust, agreed. â€œThis is the new sandwich generation: elderly â€˜childrenâ€™ who might still be both paying for their own children to go through university and their mortgages, but having to take early retirement to care for parents in their 90s and older.â€
Dr Debora Price, the director of theÂ Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on AgeingÂ at the University of Manchester, said: â€œThis phenomenon is likely to grow, and of course as these carers age, they also become more likely to have a spouse who may need care, or to start to encounter health problems themselves.
â€œAnd while they are still relatively young, they also face competing pressures to continue in the paid workforce under the governmentâ€™s extending working lives agenda and with rises in the state pension age. But they are also expected to â€“ and do â€“ care for their grandchildren.â€
Price points toÂ research (pdf)Â showing that eight out of 10 grandmothers in England with a grandchild under 16 provide childcare. At the same time, 28% of grandparents with a grandchild under 16 have a parent who is still alive. â€œAs those parents age, their needs potentially become greater,â€ Price said. â€œAt the same time, their children â€“ already grandparents – are ageing too, while also being expected to work and save.â€
Jo Moriarty, a senior research fellow and deputy director at theÂ Social Care Workforce Research UnitÂ at Kingâ€™s College London, has begun researching this group. She said she recently met a woman in her 70s who was developing dementia while struggling to care for her mother, who had had dementia for years.
â€œSupport for carers is predicated on carers not having health problems of their own,â€ she said. â€œThereâ€™s a lot of unintentional discrimination against older carers, even though they need more help than younger carers.â€
Nearest tube: Elephant & Castle underground station (Northern and Bakerloo lines).
Nearest Railway Station: Elephant & Castle
Buses from Elephant and Castle: ask bus driver for Burgess Park. Bus numbers: 12, 171, 148, 176, 68, 484, 42, 40, 45