The number of people in their late 80s or older caring around the clock for loved ones has trebled in just 15 years according to new analysis charting a dramatic expansion in Britain’s unsung army of elderly carers.
But the study, published by the charities Age UK and Carers UK, warns that Britain’s oldest people are now putting their own health at risk in an effort to support sick or frail spouses and family members as the care system comes under increasing pressure.
The report, based on census findings and survey results, singles out Britain’s dementia epidemic as the biggest factor transforming how many can now expect to spend their old age.
And it highlights how older men in particular dominate the army of older carers in Britain, despite still having shorter life expectancies than women.
Overall the study shows that the number of over 85s in England responsible for the care of loved-ones rose by 125 per cent between the census years 2001 and 2011 to stand at more than 87,300.
It estimates that there are now more than 116,000 carers over the age of 85 in England – almost one in 10 people in the age-group – meaning that the total number has trebled since 2001.
But, crucially, that figure is predicted to almost double again to stand at more than 201,000 by 2030.
And the demands of caring increases rather than decreases as people get older, reaching ages when they themselves might need care.
While a third of carers in their late 60s and early 70s provide more than 50 hours a week of care, that leaps to 55 per cent among those over 85.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “Our ageing population presents a challenge for Government, social care services and the NHS to meet the increasing demand for care but also support the rapidly expanding numbers of older people who are themselves providing care.
“Important new duties in the Care Act have the potential to improve support for older carers but sufficient and sustainable funding for health and care services is urgently needed to reverse the worrying trend of fewer older carers receiving social care services.”
The study also singles out the pressure carers are placing on their own health. Six in 10 of those providing 50 hours of care or more a week also described themselves in the last census as not being in good health.
Meanwhile almost half of carers over 75 are looking after someone with dementia.
Heléna Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, said: “Caring is something that touches all of us at some point in our lives but this research shows that growing numbers of older people are caring for others at a time when they are more likely to need care themselves.
“Older carers make a huge contribution to our society estimated to be worth £15 billion a year, but this is too often coming at a cost to their own health and wellbeing.
“This report shines a light on the vital care that older people are providing, often behind closed doors.
“Now action is needed to ensure that older carers have the support they need so they don’t have to care alone.”
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