Feb 19, 2024

Australia’s unpaid carers are burnt out and neglecting themselves, survey reveals

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Unpaid carers are feeling burnout and neglecting their own health. [Source: Shutterstock]

Informal carers are pushing themselves to the limit to look after their loved ones with new research finding that nine out of 10 unpaid carers are feeling exhausted and neglecting their own needs.

Among the challenges, just under half of Australia’s unpaid caregivers feel fulfilled by the care they provide, but there is one thing many are asking for: to be seen and recognised by society.

Key points

  • Home care provider The CareSide surveyed over 700 unpaid caregivers, with 94% stating they feel physically or mentally burnt out
  • The overwhelming majority, 91%, of caregivers who responded were women with 75% of all respondents aged 55% or older
  • With 92% of people often neglecting their own needs and 82% not having time for personal hobbies or interests, just one in five carers accessed in-home respite services so they could have a break from caregiving

Australia’s informal carers have often faced their own challenges while caring for a loved one, with previous research from Australian Unity highlighting record lows in personal well-being and mental health. 

But The CareSide’s research adds another layer to the issue by recognising just how prevalent high burnout levels are for unpaid carers. 

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

“Though rewarding, being an unpaid caregiver for 20 years has taken a 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,” – stated another respondent. 

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There’s no time off

Unlike paid carers in the workforce, there’s no time off for unpaid caregivers. More than 40% of those surveyed said they spend 60 hours or more caring for their partner, parent, child or friend during the week with another 13% putting in 40+ hour weeks as unpaid caregivers.

Unfortunately, this means most end up neglecting their own physical or mental health. 

In total, 61% said they ‘strongly agree’ with often neglecting their own needs because of caregiver responsibilities, followed by 31% who said ‘agree’.

“That disregard isn’t so much a choice as it is a necessity. Unpaid caregivers simply don’t have time to do the things they want (or need) to do, whether it’s caring for themselves or pursuing other endeavours. More than 60% of our respondents reported not having enough time to explore hobbies and interests they enjoy due to their caregiving obligations,” The CareSide said.

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Examples of caregiver stress can vary between individuals, with a loss of interest in hobbies, fatigue and sleep issues also linked to: 

  • Anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, anger or frustration
  • Strained relationships with family members and friends
  • Feelings of burden and worry
  • Unwanted weight loss or weight gain
  • Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs (including prescription medications)

With no time for themselves, unpaid carers are struggling to access important support systems. 

Last year, the Government announced the launch of several carer support systems, including the Carer Gateway. Additionally, respite grants are available for families and informal carers of a person living with dementia. 

Respite care is an important tool for carers as it gives them time off from looking after a loved one, all while knowing they’re supported by a trained professional. This can take place within the comfort of home or at a coordinated respite centre. 

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Sadly it may not be a long-term solution as carers can find it hard to switch off.

“Even with in-home respite you are never truly free. You’re always waiting for the phone to ring or a text message signalling you need to go home. Being a carer requires 100% commitment – whether you can provide it or not,” a respondent stated.

With only 21% of respondents accessing respite care it’s clearly an area where more awareness and education is needed to ensure informal carers are looking after themselves. 

Another area that requires more education is widespread recognition of what Australia’s unpaid carers are doing. Just 40% feel appreciated for their work, and more positive feedback, Government funding to alleviate financial strain, and easy access to support services for care recipients and carers is essential.

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  1. And that’s been going on for at least 25years
    now. I left when Covid started. I got the very serious flu when it started a client had the flu and didn’t let in about it to me. The second day I was there she had a huge bold dire in her lip and I said have you got the flu and she said no it’s just a winter sniffle I’ve got. Her don had just come home from an overseas trip
    And his wife was crook with the flu. Next day I had to go to
    The doctor and I was swabbed for Covid and cleared out on strong meds like predizone and other pills but I didn’t have Covid. 3 days later my husband had the same swabbing fine snd he was negative as well. It was s pretty potent flu. I asked the gloves and masks handsanitiser and shoes etc for showering the client the second day and got refused and told they were not for me they were for seriously ill patients carers. I never went back to work for these people again It took me 6 weeks to get myself right again and I wasn’t going to rush my husbands snd my health again for the very little pay we got for doing this work. Yes we all burnt ourselves out doing this work. Yes we weren’t appreciated. Yes else were out in positions that no ordinary person has no right to be put into and we were all underpaid and overworked. The work was very rewarding but the employers were really the worst you could ever get.

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