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Older carers of the terminally ill missing out on vital support

04 December 2018

Older people who are caring for a terminally ill loved one in Northern Ireland are missing out on the help they need to look after their own health, according to two leading charities.

A new report from Marie Curie and Carers NI shows the impact that caring for someone with a terminal illness has on older people’s health and wellbeing, leaving many at ‘breaking point’.

The report makes 14 recommendations to the health service and policy makers to help ensure older carers of the terminally ill get the help they need. The recommendations include:

  • All health and social care professionals should have a statutory duty to identify older carers and refer them for support.
  • Older carers should have access to high quality replacement care to help them take a break from caring.
  • Older carers should be offered training and information to help them provide care.
  • Older carers of terminally ill people should have access to flexible and responsive psychological and bereavement support.

Craig Harrison, Policy and Public Affairs Officer for Marie Curie Northern Ireland, said:

“There are thousands of people aged 65 and over in Northern Ireland providing care to a loved one with a terminal illness. This caring role is often around-the-clock and can leave an older person feeling physically exhausted, stressed, isolated and depressed. It takes a huge toll and many of these older carers are being pushed to breaking point. The health service would be in serious trouble without the contribution that older carers make, but despite the vital role they play, far too many are missing out on the information and support they need to look after themselves and take a break from caring. We are letting them down. 

“With Northern Ireland’s population ageing and increasing rates of terminal conditions like dementia and cancer, the number of older carers is likely to keep growing. We’re calling for urgent action to ensure all of these carers get the help they need, when they need it.”

Clare-Anne Magee, Head of Carers NI, said:

“Most of us look forward to taking things easy as we grow older, enjoying retirement and having the good health to do so. However, for over 32,000 carers aged 65 and over here in Northern Ireland this idea of retirement is just that, an idea, it’s not reality.

“We need to better recognise the massive contribution that older carers make, because our struggling health system simply couldn’t survive without it. Older carers need access to more information, practical help, respite, financial support and links into the community to help combat the risk of feeling socially isolated as a result of their caring role.”

John from Lisburn, cares for his wife with dementia. He said:

“Caring for my wife is an all-encompassing role, and my health usually comes second. Sometimes I can’t eat or sleep properly. The impact on my mental wellbeing has been massive. I feel totally isolated and alone. People in my situation need support to keep ourselves well while we’re looking after our loved ones.” 


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