Just when they thought it was time to put up their feet and retire, many of the older generation are finding that there is no such thing as retirement. In fact they say they are now doing the hardest job they have ever done, with no option to ring in sick if they are not well.

Carers Trust today launches "Retirement on Hold", a new report (PDF, 406KB) which highlights some of the challenges the older population are facing. Instead of retiring, they have become or will remain lifelong unpaid carers for their sick or disabled partner or adult children.

The report gives a snapshot of the battles some older people are now fighting, including caring for someone else when they have their own age-related illnesses.

Many aren't prepared for caring and are struggling to find their way around the social care system, and by the time they've received vital information it is too late, some say. They say the burden of caring has resulted in them being exhausted, frustrated and becoming sick themselves.

Speaking as the charity launched the third phase of its Speak Up for Older Carers campaign, Gail Scott-Spicer, CEO of Carers Trust, said:

"For the thousands of unpaid carers across the UK, there is no such thing as retirement. Instead, they are caring relentlessly, with many battling their own illnesses and frailty, with little or no practical and financial support.

"With more than 1.8 million unpaid carers over the age of 60 in England, and with a longer life expectancy, the older generation can expect to care for longer and later into their lives.

"Without more financial support for social care and help on a practical level, they can look forward to working harder without the perks of the job, such as annual leave and occupational health assessments."

The report highlights some of the issues many older carers are facing:

  • Over half of older carers attending focus groups set up by Carers Trust had at least one health condition themselves, such as high blood pressure, arthritis and heart problems.
  • Some carers carried on caring even though they no longer had feelings for the person they cared for. While some felt they were made to feel guilty if they were no longer willing or able to care and were judged harshly by relatives and some professionals.
  • Some carers were using their own money to finance personal care services or respite breaks without realising the person they care for should be assessed for the cost.
  • Many carers felt isolated and some doubly so because they live in rural areas. Some women said they weren't encouraged to drive so now can’t take their husbands to appointments. One 75-year-old is learning to drive, while some who did learn, stopped because their husbands became the main driver. Now they felt stranded as they couldn’t even attend support groups set up for them.

Amy, 75, cares for her daughter, 50. She said:

"During really difficult times, I have had fleeting thoughts that it may be better if I and my daughter went together. I worry about her vulnerability, will she look after herself, I really don't want her to go into residential care."

Bill, 75, cares for his wife, 76. He said:

"Back home in the Caribbean people were either well and working, or they died. There was sometimes an old aunt or grandmother, but she was at home looking after the children, people just didn't live that long.

"When we came to England as young men and women there were no older people in our community so again we had no experience of caring. I would say caring for elderly people is a new thing to our community. The support from the carers group has been a lifeline for me."

PR guru and businesswoman Lynne Franks, cares for her elderly mum who has Alzheimer's. She said:

"Caring has to be one of the toughest jobs there is – both emotionally and physically. Being responsible for the care and well-being of my 92-year-old mum is a constant juggle to ensure she has everything in place and is well looked after.  

"I've learnt a lot through experience, but it's crucial that those of us now responsible for caring know where to get the right help and support for what has to be one of our greatest challenges."

Gail Scott-Spicer continued:

"Our findings show that it is clear that many older carers know their plight, but need the right tools to be able to cope.

"We need local authorities and society generally to think and plan ahead to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of older carers who are a vital resource to our stretched health and social care system.

"There are so many things that can be done to improve their situation – better co-ordination of their health care, information about local support at the earliest opportunity and before it becomes too late."