Carers’ depression risk identified

27 February 2015

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OLDER carers who look after their partners or sick children are more likely to suffer from depression and a decline in their quality of life, a new report suggests. And carers' mental health does not improve when their loved one dies or moves into residential care.

The study, The Emotional Wellbeing of Older Carers, by the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK), led by researchers from University College, London, found that when the care-giving stopped, carers suffered higher risks of depression.

Among the more than 6000 responses from people aged over 50 which made up the study, women who gave up care-giving were 54 per cent more likely to suffer depression later than those who were never care-givers. There was also evidence that men are more likely to report symptoms of depression, although this was less conclusive.

There are almost 1.3 million carers over the age of 65 in the UK, many of whom are caring for someone; many also act as carers for their grandchildren. The lowest sense of well-being was reported by those who cared for a sick or disabled child, followed by those who cared for a spouse or partner.

Carers were likely to have lost touch with friends because of the demands on them; three-quarters of those who responded to the survey said that they had struggled to maintain their social networks. The effects were cumulative: stress, loneliness, and social isolation built up over time. They also worsened the carer's own physical and mental health. Full-time, live-in carers were those most likely to be depressed.

The report urges the Government, councils, and support organisations to do more to help carers to visit the people they have cared for if they have moved into residential care, and also to provide extra support in the case of bereavement.

GPs should routinely assess the mental health of carers, it says, and more groups, activities, and volunteering opportunities should be provided to ex-carers to help them through this "crucial time".

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Helen Creighton, from ILC-UK, said: "Carers give so much of their time to helping someone else, and the focus is (rightly) on the person who is in need of care. However, when their care-giving responsibilities end, it is essential [that] carers are not just abandoned. Local authorities need to do more to help ex-carers make connections in their community, and may want to consider setting up forums where excarers can come together to support one another."

The report is the second one published by ILC-UK to look at the importance of social networks in later life. The first report, on links between social networks and well-being in later life, found that, of those questioned, 24 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women aged 70-79 reported feeling lonely; among those aged over 80, the figures were even higher: 36 per cent of men, and 52 per cent of women. Most older people begin to see a rise in their well-being in later life, but not those who are socially isolated.

The ILC-UK study was based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

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