Hidden Carers – sharing the stories of older male carers

Louise Bate is an Engagement and Communications Officer with Healthwatch Dorset. Healthwatch is an independent watchdog, working to help people get the best out of their local health and social care services. Healthwatch enables local people to influence the delivery and design of local services, by sharing their views with health and care commissioners and providers: www.healthwatchdorset.co.uk 

More than 51,000 carers in England are men aged over 85; a number that has more than doubled in the last decade. It’s such a huge number of people that it’s hard to imagine. We wanted to make the numbers real – so we’ve been working with Bournemouth University and the Carers Support Service to listen to older male carers, gather their stories and give them a stronger voice.

Carers over the age of 85 are the only demographic of carers where men outnumber women (59%). Men are more likely to become carers in older age than at other times in their life and usually as a result of caring for their partners. As such, older male carers are more likely to live with the person they are caring for. Many carers have physical and mental health issues themselves and evidence shows that caring for someone further increases the likelihood of isolation, loneliness and depression and physical health problems. A Carers UK study (2015) identified that 54% of carers have suffered depression because of their caring role; and 77% felt more anxious. 40% of carers identified that they had missed medical appointments and discharged themselves from hospital due to concerns about care for the person they look after. Local data from the Bournemouth and Poole Carers Centre suggests that older male carers are the group least likely to ask for help and often present to them through GP services at crisis stage.

This research study was designed to find out what it’s like to be an older male carer, in order to help create services that meet their needs. The 11 carers who took part were recruited by the Carers Information Service and invited to be co-collaborators in the project. A student research assistant, Jacob McKay, carried out one to one interviews with the carers and supported their involvement. Following the interviews, a number of group workshops were held, bringing everyone together to look at the common themes and plan a creative way of sharing everyone’s stories.

Chief cook and bottle washer” is the film created in which 9 male carers, all aged over 85 years, share their insights on being an older carer, how life has changed for them and what their key messages are for health and social care practitioners.

A theme amongst the carers’ experience was the loss of free time and many of the men spoke of feeling increasingly isolated. Eric is 90, he cares for his 93 year old wife Mary who has dementia. Eric explains: “I find the restriction of not being able to leave Mary is becoming more and more difficult. I used to go sailing, I used to play golf but I can’t leave her now.”

One of the wonderful results of the project already has been seeing the friendships and peer support that has evolved amongst the carers, helping them to feel less isolated. The Carers Information Service are supporting them to set up an older male carers friendship group and they are also designing a carers information leaflet from the project for GP surgeries.

We’re very proud to have been involved and we’re looking forward to working with NHS & care commissioners and providers to develop services that recognise and support older male carers in the future.

The film is available on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWgEaUHs97s to find out more please contact Louise on 0300 111 0102 or email enquiries@healthwatchdorset.co.uk

This joint project was funded and supported by Healthwatch Dorset, co-produced by the carers who took part, and supported by Bournemouth University, PIER – Public Involvement in Education & Research, CRISP – Carers Information Service and BU Media Students.

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