Older carers in Northern Ireland battle their own deteriorating health, financial stresses and worries about what will happen to the person they care for in the future, according to new research.
The report by Carers Trust found that nearly 75% of over-60s looking after an ill or disabled family member or friend said being a carer had damaged their health.
For a third (33%) of the older carers polled, money and the cost of caring is a constant worry, while 78% are very concerned about the future for the person they care for if they are no longer able to continue in their caring role.
The findings of the study, Mind the Gap, reveal the strain of caring for a loved one and the toll it takes on thousands of carers across Northern Ireland every year.
Carers aged between 60 to 85 were surveyed — two-thirds of whom said they had health problems or a disability themselves and over half of respondents have not had training in handling medication, first aid or dealing with difficult behaviour.
There was also a toll on mental health with 73% saying that being a carer had a negative impact on their psychological well-being and seven in 10 saying they have become more isolated because of their caring duties.
Anne Roberts, chief executive at Carers Trust, said: “The survey paints a grim picture of life for older carers in Northern Ireland with most saying they are overwhelmingly exhausted and worried about their situation and the person they care for.
“There is a need for greater cohesion between the statutory and community sectors to ensure that support for older carers is maintained and to guarantee that any gaps in provision are identified and addressed.
“Carers Trust is calling on all the relevant bodies in Northern Ireland to Mind the Gap to make sure we protect one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.”
The research was launched at Newry Carers Centre, where Health Minister Edwin Poots said it is imperative carers get the support they need.
“It is incumbent on society to support people who want to continue as a carer for as long as possible,” he said.
“This can be done through assessing and monitoring their needs, as well as those of the person being cared for and ensuring that practical help, including respite and short break care, is provided.
“Carers need to be confident that the support services will step up to provide additional support when they are no longer able to.”
One in every eight adults in Northern Ireland is a carer and there are approximately 207,000 carers here. Carers save the Northern Ireland economy over £4.4bn a year — more than the annual NHS spend in Northern Ireland.
The main carers' benefit is worth just £55.55 for a minimum of 35 hours — £7.94 per day. A quarter of all carers provide over 50 hours of care per week. People providing high levels of care are twice as likely to be permanently sick or disabled than the average person.
Approximately 30,000 people in Northern Ireland care for more than one person.