Study explores who cares for the carers


Barbara Horrell, a doctoral researcher based in Oamaru, is interested in the wellbeing of those who look after older people in the community. She says her study is in response to significant social and demographic changes as the ageing population grows and the elderly are encouraged to remain in the community with more reliance on family, friends and neighbours for help.

She says the informal, invisible nature of voluntary care for the elderly means more research needs to be done to understand the pressures placed on carers. Carers might include older spouses caring for each other, and middle-aged people – sometimes described as the “sandwich generation” because they are caring for their children and parents simultaneously.

Mrs Horrell says caring for older people can be complex and is a “potentially crucial public health issue”. Carers may come are under greater pressure physically, mentally and socially as the person being cared for becomes more unwell and less mobile over time. Family and friends can end up providing nursing level care, such as changing dressings and catheter bags, and monitoring drug regimes.

“The purpose of my study is to find out about the kinds of things that carers need, or value, to maintain their health and wellbeing while caring for older people,” Mrs Horrell says.

She has set up an Internet discussion group for carers nationwide who are looking after people aged 65 and over. “The discussion group will enable carers to interact and discuss the things they feel are important for their own wellbeing.”

Using the experiences and insights of carers to inform her study, she hopes her research will help shape public health policies regarding care of the aged in the community and support for their carers.

“People may start off with the best of intentions, but when, for example, dementia progresses and personalities change, it can be very difficult for carers without adequate support and knowledge,” says Mrs Horrell, who completed a Master’s degree in psychology on end-of-life care.

Anyone interested in taking part in the study can visit the website