Unpaid carers burnt out

Nine out of 10 are physically and mentally exhausted.

A study conducted by home and disability care provider The CareSide paints a picture of physical, mental and financial stress among Australia’s informal carers.

The organisation surveyed 707 unpaid caregivers living in Australia between November and December 2023 to learn about the level of burnout they are experiencing.

They found more than nine in 10 often feel physically or mentally exhausted due to their caregiving responsibilities (94 per cent) and often neglect their own needs (92 per cent). Fewer than one in five carers report having time to explore hobbies and interests (18 per cent).

“I care for my husband who has dementia. It is relentless, demanding and exhausting. Caregivers are invisible. No one ever asks how I am,” wrote one survey respondent.  

Source: The CareSide report ‘The quiet toll of unpaid caregiving’

Most carers spend more than 40 hours a week giving care (53 per cent) – it’s more than 60 hours for two in five respondents (41 per cent) – and most have been doing it for more than five years (51 per cent), the findings published in the online report The quiet toll of unpaid caregiving show.

“Though rewarding, being an unpaid caregiver for 20 years has taken its toll on my personal life, finances and health. Caregivers are not recognised for the role we play in society. All we ask is, ‘Please see us,’” wrote another survey respondent.

The CareSide chief operating officer Emily Gillett called the social, financial, emotional and health impacts on unpaid carers enormous. 

Emily Gillett

“Unpaid carers often have to resign from their paid employment to provide care to their loved ones. Not only does this place a huge financial burden on the carer, but it can also often leave them socially and emotionally isolated,” Ms Gillett told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“Often people don’t understand the toll of transitioning out of an unpaid carer role. There is a common misconception that no longer providing the care relieves the burden but, in fact, often the carer remains isolated and anxious, unable to transition back to their normal life before they became a full-time carer.”

More than half of those surveyed reported feeling resentful for the personal time they have lost due to their caregiving responsibilities (55 per cent) and just four in five report feeling fulfilled by their role as a caregiver.

Source: The CareSide report ‘The quiet toll of unpaid caregiving’

“My caregiving responsibilities have come at a huge cost to my career and a massive financial and emotional cost to my whole family,” said one respondent.

The vast majority of caregivers surveyed were women (91 per cent). And while the finding is unsurprising, the report’s authors say the “stark discrepancies” in gender inequities related to domestic responsibilities warrant a larger discussion.

Challenges aside, an overwhelming majority say they provide good care (94 per cent). “It’s what you do for who you love,” wrote one respondent.

Ms Gillet called for more access to paid care workers and funding to support informal carers.

“The best lever to assist supporting carers would be to provide access to more paid carers. This could be done by examining immigration policies and increasing the pool of paid trained carers available in Australia. Acknowledging the contribution carers make to the community with further access to funding – existing and new – would be beneficial.”

Main image: courtesy Dementia Australia

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Tags: emily gillett, informal carers, The CareSide, unpaid carers,

1 thought on “Unpaid carers burnt out

  1. I am not sure that the constant negative picture of caregiving is helpful. It posits caregiving and by that nature, the work of caregiving as disappointing and relentless. While good care (94%) is a majority response, I wonder how that can be further extrapolated. What does ‘good care’ mean? How is it experienced?
    I am not sure that paid carers is the right option nor immigration policies that support transfer of people from one country to another. What about the motivation… care or migration? We currently have an issue with supply among the care workforce but there are people who’d like to work in this space who are dealing with certain barriers eg study, age, transport, discrimination, gendered expectations to care, etc.
    Did CareSide explore carers’ knowledge of Carer Gateway and their experiences, if any?
    I am always confused by the term, ‘informal carer’. One is either a carer or not; and one is either a paid care worker, support worker or what other name is given to paid direct staff. I have been an aged care worker, disability worker and carer.

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