Informal care: a crucial form of healthcare

Informal care is an unpaid form of health care that is provided often by family or friends.  With a growing senior population, you can imagine that the informal care demands are growing as fast. To create an image of formal care in Europe; how many people are informal caregivers for example, and how many time do they spend on caregiving, we made a list of the most important things you need to know about informal care.

The numbers

On average for Europe thirty per cent sees him or herself as an informal caregiver of whom eight procent is an intensive caregiver, meaning they provide care for more than eleven hours a week. The country with the highest rate of informal caregivers is Finland with a rate of forty per cent. In Spain thirty procent indicates to be an informal caregiver and in the Netherlands the percentage is almost forty per cent. The country with the lowest rate of intensive caregivers is Norway with four per cent and the country with the highest rate is Portugal with almost twelve per cent. It is striking that in countries with the highest rate of informal care givers, the rate of intensive care is fairly low while in countries with a low rate of informal care givers, the rate of intensive care is relatively high. This is explained by the fact that in the countries where informal care rates are high, it is stimulated to take on a caring role, but at the same time they have a care system that takes away the need to provide informal intensive care.

Who are they?

Based on the respondents in this research fifty-five per cent of informal caregivers are females between forty and sixty years old. Almost half of informal caregivers have a full-time job and almost twenty per cent is retired. Furthermore almost half of informal caregivers have children. The study also shows that for females the chance of providing informal care is more than thirty per cent higher than it is for males and for intensive caregiving this rate is even sixty per cent.

Importance caregivers

It is clear, from the number of informal caregivers that are active in Europe, that informal care is very important for the healthcare system. Informal care will become even more important with a growing number of seniors and thus people in need of care, as well as an increase in people with chronic diseases. But there are a few threats for informal care. Some socio-economic and geographical changes are putting pressure on informal care. Most important reasons are decreasing birth rates, more mobility opportunities due to which families live further away, the increasing number of women entering the labour force and people who work longer due to delayed retirement. All of this leads to a decrease of people who are potential informal care givers. On top of that, there is a shortage of formal caregivers, which leads to an overall shortage of caregivers in general.

Difficulties caregiving

Informal caregiving is not always as easy as it seems, due to the following reasons:

  • It can impact physical and mental health of the caregiver
  • It can influence the working life of the caregiver, some caregivers are not able to cope with their work responsibilities and are forced to reduce their working days or even quit their job. This impacts their social security and financial situation
  • For young care givers it can impact their socialisation, education and career opportunities as well as their relationships

What can you do for care givers?

  • Acknowledge care givers, what they do and the problems they deal with
  • Take their notes serious and in consideration so that you are aware of a patient´s circumstances.
  • Treat informal caregivers as you would treat your professional colleagues and listen to their opinions.
  • Include them in discussions about the patient.
  • Give the informal caregiver a choice in which tasks they can take on.
  • Keep an eye on the health and welfare of the caregiver as you do for the patient as well.
  • Provide information about the condition that the patient is suffering from.
  • Provide information about what it means to be a caregiver and what support and benefits are available.
  • Provide information about local services for both the caregiver and the patient.
  • Be an advocate for the care giver to ensure they have what they need in terms of services, information and equipment.
  • Stay in contact with other services.
  • Ensure that staff is up to date of what informal caregivers do and their potential problems.

With these relatively simple solutions, a shift can be created towards more integration of professional and informal care which will create a better situation for both caregivers.

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