Carers responses to the ageing body

Cavaye, Joyce E. (2008). Carers responses to the ageing body. In: ISA Sociology of Ageing Conference, 05-08 Sep 2008, University of Barcelona, Spain.



The majority of care for older people is provided by informal carers. The type of intimate and personal care required has been has been recognised as a form of bodywork (Twigg 2000). Many of the existing studies about bodywork have however, centred primarily on paid workers in nursing or social care. This focus means that little is known about unpaid family carers’ experiences of bodywork and the associated emotional labour arising from the challenges of caring for older people.

This paper draws on a longitudinal, qualitative study which used a grounded theory methodology. Over a period of 28 months, it explored the experiences of carers of older people who were unsupported by formal services and who initially had no help with personal and intimate care.

Findings reveal that caregivers are confronted daily with the changing realities of bodywork as they deal with a deteriorating body, increasing levels of dependency and the changing nature of relationships with the care recipient and service providers. The paper argues that younger carers in particular, find bodywork one of the most distressing and challenging parts of their role and that service providers should not assume that carers can manage this aspect of their role with equanimity.

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