What do we know about older former carers? Key issues and themes

Larkin, Mary and Milne, Alisoun (2017). What do we know about older former carers? Key issues and themes. Health and Social Care in the Community, 25(4) pp. 1396–1403.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12437

Abstract

Despite a significant growth in the number older former family carers they remain largely invisible in carer-related research and literature. To begin to address this deficit, a four-stage literature review was conducted to identify existing knowledge about older former carers. Narrative synthesis of the findings yielded five themes - the concept of ‘older former carer’, the legacies of caring, influences on the legacies of caring, conceptualising post-caring, and support services for older former carers. Critical analysis of these findings suggests that existing evidence has a number of strengths. It highlights the terminological and conceptual confusion in the field, identifies the profound financial and health-related legacies older former carers’ experience, the factors which shape these legacies and some of the complexities of bereavement older former carers face. The support needs of older former carers are also illuminated. However, the field is characterised by key weaknesses. The evidence base is fragmented and uneven. In part this reflects lack of definitional consensus and in part the fact that there is much more evidence about some sub-groups, such as carers of relatives admitted to a care home, than others. Methodology-related weaknesses include small sample sizes and a focus on a single, often condition-specific, group of older former carers. An overarching criticism relates to the narrow conceptual /theoretical purview. As post-caring tends to be viewed as one of the final temporal ‘stages’ of the carer’s ‘caregiving career’, a bifurcatory model of carer/former carer is created i.e. that a carer actively provides care and a former carer is no longer caring. This constructs being a former carer – namely formerality - as a single fixed state failing to capture its dynamic and shifting nature and constrains the potential of research to generate new knowledge and extend understanding.

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