Carers say their role is having major impact on mental health

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MORE THAN two-thirds of older carers say the role is having an adverse effect on their mental health - but giving it up is also leading those who care for loved ones to become depressed, research has found.

Local authorities should do more to help older carers integrate back into their communities after their role as a carer ends, the study suggests.

The main reasons for giving up caregiving are the person being cared for - who is often a loved one - either dying or moving into a home.

“Both of these scenarios are likely to put significant emotional strain on the carer,” the report by the International Longevity Centre - UK (ILC-UK) said.

“Research has shown that for carers who have been looking after a partner this can be particularly devastating, with the transition to living alone from being part of a couple increasing the likelihood of social exclusion threefold.”

While caregiving over a short period was not associated with increased depression, caring over the long term was connected to declines in quality of life and life satisfaction for carers, and an increased risk of depression.

There are almost 1.3 million carers over the age of 65 in the UK, including those that look after grandchildren.

The study found that 69 per cent of older carers say that it has an adverse effect on their mental health.

Women who gave up caregiving were 54% more likely to have depression at follow-up than those who were never caregivers, while there was also evidence that men may be more likely to report symptoms of depression but this was less conclusive.

More needs to be done to help older carers maintain their social networks and to provide them with breaks from their caring duties, while GPs should be made aware of the high potential for depression and assessments of their mental health should be made routine, the report said.

Local authorities should also promote groups, activities and volunteering among ex-carers.

A second report by the ILC-UK in conjunction with the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London also revealed that 24 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women aged 70 to 79 report feeling lonely, with the figures rising to 36 per cent of men and 52 per cent of women aged 80-plus.

Professor Andrew Steptoe, from University College London, said: “Loneliness and social isolation are problems confronting many people as they grow older. Our previous research with the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing has shown how these problems affect healthy biological function and even survival. These new studies show the negative impact of loneliness and isolation on emotional wellbeing, and that the many informal carers in the community are at particular risk.”

Helen Creighton, of the ILC-UK, said: “Carers give so much of their time to helping someone else and, quite rightly, the focus is often on the person who is in need of care. However, when their caregiving responsibilities end it is essential 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 ex-carers can come together to support one another.”