Informal caring in late life: a qualitative study of the experiences of older carers

J McGarry, A Arthur
Journal of Advanced Nursing 2001, 33 (2): 182-9

AIM OF THE STUDY: This study examined the experiences of informal carers who were aged 75 years and over.

BACKGROUND: It has been estimated that 13% of those aged over 65 years are providing some form of informal care. Although there is a substantial body of work reporting the experiences of informal carers, little attention has been paid to the specific situation faced by older carers.

DESIGN AND METHODS: Potential study participants were identified during one round of annual over-75 health checks carried out in one large general practice. Data were collected through personal interviews, which were transcribed and analysed using a thematic approach.

RESULTS: Fifty-eight carers were identified and 14 were approached to take part in the study. Of the 14 interviewees, 13 were caring for a spouse and one was caring for a sibling. There were 10 female and four male carers in the study (age range 76-92 years). Themes to emerge from the interviews were categorized under four headings: (1) the organizational demands and structure of the caring relationship, (2) informal support networks, (3) formal services and (4) the constancy of caring and the need for the role of carer to be recognized.

CONCLUSIONS: The over-75 health check may provide a valuable tool to identify older carers who are not known to care providers. This paper concludes that nurses can take a lead role in working with this group in three ways. Firstly, in identifying older carers; secondly, in developing strategies to assist older carers in their caring role and finally, in responding swiftly to crises that can develop among this vulnerable group.

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