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Open Access Research article

Time to care? Health of informal older carers and time spent on health related activities: an Australian survey

Tanisha Jowsey12*, Ian McRae1, James Gillespie3, Michelle Banfield12 and Laurann Yen12

Author Affiliations

1 Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia

2 Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, 2006, Australia

3 Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:374  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-374

Published: 22 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Little is known about the time spent on specific health related activities by older adult informal carers who assist people with chronic illness. Research has not yet addressed the association between carer health status and their care demands. Such information could inform policy and health system efforts to manage chronic illness.

Methods

We conducted an Australia wide survey using recall questionnaires to record time use. The study asked how much time is spent on “most days” for the most common activities like taking medication, self-treatment and testing, and how much time in the last month on less common activities like attending a physician or shopping associated with health needs. The survey was mailed to 5,000 members of National Seniors Australia; 2,500 registrants on the National Diabetes Services Scheme; and 3,100 members of the Australian Lung Foundation. A total of 2519 people responded, including 313 people who identified as informal carers. Statistical analysis was undertaken using Stata 11. Standard errors and confidence intervals were derived using bootstrapping techniques within Stata 11.

Results

Most carers (96.2%) had chronic illness themselves, and those with greater numbers of chronic illnesses were those who faced the greatest overall time demands. The top decile of carers devoted between 8.5 and 10 hours a day to personal and caring health related activities. Informal carers with chronic illness spent more time managing their own health than people with chronic illness who were not informal carers. These carers spent more time on caring for others than on caring for their own health. High levels of caring responsibility were associated with poorer reported carer health.

Conclusions

Policy and health care services will need to adapt to recognise and reduce the time burden on carers who themselves have chronic illness. More carefully targeted investment in the social infrastructure of formal care would free up carers for other activities (including their own care) and holds the potential to improve the quality of life as well as the health outcomes of this population.

Keywords:
Carer; Informal care; Health services; Respite; Chronic illness; Long term condition; Chronic disease; Time; Time use; Australia; Health related activities