Impact of caring on health

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

More than half of carers in a new survey in Scotland say that they have a long term illness or disability. New evidence published today (26.1.11) by Carers Scotland has found that unpaid carers have twice the prevalence of long term illness and disability as the rest of the Scottish population.[1]

The report, “Sick, tired and caring: the impact of unpaid caring on health and long term conditions”, found that 96% of respondents said that caring had impacted negatively on their health, with more than a quarter (27%) rating their health as poor or very poor.

More than half (57%) of respondents had a long term illness or disability – even amongst those who rated their health as average or good.  Many had more than one and, in some cases, three or four long term conditions and almost half (45%) suffered from significant illness including diabetes, depression and fybromyalgia or, had had cancer.  Two thirds (68%) experience physical problems such as joint, hip, back and/or neck pain with more than a third suffering from arthritis, osteoarthritis or osteoporosis.  13% had respiratory problems including asthma and COPD and 11% had neurological problems including epilepsy, stroke or acquired brain injury.  Worryingly a third have high blood pressure.

Carers reported other significant impacts on their health and wellbeing including back and shoulder pain (70%), stress, anxiety and depression (86%) and exhaustion (34%).  Half (54%) said they felt isolated and could not meet friends and family or take part in leisure or social activities.

Almost half of carers reported that their conditions had started after they began caring.  Of those whose condition predated their caring role, a quarter said that their condition had worsened since they took on their caring role.

Patrick Begley, Director of Carers Scotland, said: “The role of “carer” is rarely chosen.  It is often thrust upon individuals as a consequence of a sudden illness, disability or accident of a family member, partner or friend or, the birth of a disabled child.  Information and support, provided at an early stage, is critical.  Poor coordinated planning and a lack of this information and support can lead to significant ill health for carers.  This is often overlooked as carers do not have the time or backup to look after their own needs.  This cannot be good for the carer and risks a breakdown of care with the subsequent need for intervention by health and social care.  This will, inevitably, be more costly both financially and, most importantly, in human terms for carer and the person they care for.
“For many carers, caring makes them sick and tired… but it does not need to be this way.  With the right support, resources and information, caring can be a positive and rewarding experience, an ordinary feature of ordinary life.”

Tips for carers on how they can find the balance between caring for someone else and looking after their own health needs can be viewed on the Carers UK's website at http://www.carersuk.org/Information/Helpwithhealth