Over the past 7 years the number of carers aged 80 and over has rocketed from 301,000 to 417,000, an increase of nearly 39%. Now 1 in 7 people aged 80 and over provide some form of care to family or friends.
Over half (144,000) of carers in this age group who are caring for someone in their home are doing so for more than 35 hours a week, while a further 156,000 are caring for more than 20 hours a week. As our population continues to age it is estimated that there will be more than 760,000 carers aged 80 and beyond by 2030. The findings come from a yearly representative household survey of 15,000 people aged 60 or over. The results were multiplied to give an estimate for the whole of the UK.
The majority of these older people are looking after a partner as older couples try to manage living at home for as long as possible, leaning on each other for support. A minority care for disabled sons and daughters.
'I still want to care for my wife and am fortunate that in spite of having suffered a bad heart attack, I can still manage to cope. I do get tired though, especially if I need to get up in the night and help her', says a male carer in his early 80s.
Meanwhile, the total number of carers aged 65 and over who are providing informal care for another person has risen from nearly 1.7 million to over 2 million in the last 7 years.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: 'We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the hundreds of thousands of over-80s who are caring, many of them virtually full-time, saving the country nearly £6 billion a year in the process. More of that money needs spending on supporting them, as well as the people they look after – usually their partner, but sometimes a friend or disabled adult child.
'Most of these wonderful older people tell us they care because they want to and are committed to, but they also often say they see no alternative. Many admit to being exhausted and worried about how long they can carry on, and the consequences if they become seriously ill themselves.
'The task of providing care ought to be fairly shared between individuals, families and the state, but as public funding falls further and further behind the growing demand for care we worry that very old people are being expected to fill the gap. They can’t do it all on their own and we shouldn’t take advantage of their determination to do right by those they love.'
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy at Carers UK, said: 'Older carers make an enormous but often hidden contribution to our society and the levels of care being provided are staggering. But, we hear time and again from carers that this comes at a cost to their own health and wellbeing, unable to leave the home or get sufficient breaks form caring.
'Our ageing population calls for greater investment now, from 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. Action is urgently needed to ensure that older carers have the support they need and are not left caring alone by shrinking support services.