Faced with loss of autonomy, who do we turn to? Very often, our loved ones are our first recourse, before considering a medical approach. Who are carers? Soon, the answer to this question will probably be "all of us", as the support they provide will become more and more critical in the years to come. Let's take stock of the major role they play across the European population and the ways public authorities and care providers can support them.
Carers, a European population unto themselves
What is a carer? In the absence of a strict legal definition, the meaning may vary slightly between countries and organisations. However, all working definitions agree on the following: a carer is a person who, at any age, cares for a member of their social circle who needs their help because of a health problem (illness, frailty, disability, etc.), generally without financial compensation. This definition is broad enough to capture the wide range of individual situations, and notes that such practices are unpaid. However, the term “informal carer” can be used if the context specifically requires to refer to unpaid care. Here, we follow various carer associations and use the term “carer” in its broad sense. Nevertheless, in all likelihood, everyone is, has been, or will be a carer at least once in their life. Running errands for a recovering parent, supporting a friend through a depression, or living with a disabled loved one—this definition applies to all of these situations. This is borne out by the European Commission's estimate that 80% of long-term care is provided at home by family members or friends. Carers are therefore rightly seen as the cornerstone of support for elderly and/or frail persons. In fact, a significant percentage of the European population has caring responsibilities, according to official figures compiled by the Eurocarers association: 6.8% in Germany, 10.4% in the United Kingdom, 11.6% in Belgium, 11% in Spain, 14% in Italy and France, and almost 22% in Sweden, i.e. more than one in five inhabitants.
Urgent preparations must be made for the future
These figures are bound to increase given current demographic trends in Europe. In France, for example, an estimated one in four working people will be considered a “carer” by 2030. The challenges faced by carers can therefore be expected to increase, starting with the time they invest on a daily basis, especially for severe cases of loss of autonomy. In 2019, the WHO estimated, for example, that the work of family carers accounts for 50% of the global dementia workload, with an average daily time spent of 5 hours. 70% of this care is believed to be provided by women, making it a major gender equality and public health issue. Improving the working conditions and work-life balance of carers will be all the more urgent. This reality seems to be generally taken into account by the public authorities, as shown by recent announcements. For example, in August 2022, the implementation of the European Directive on leave for carers will be finalised, i.e. 5 days of leave per person per year for any worker who cares for a disabled or sick relative. On 7 September, the European Commission also presented the European Care Strategy for caregivers and care receivers, which includes recommendations in areas like training, psychological and financial support...
Supporting carers and integrating them into care pathways
It is impossible to overstate the fact that carers are the key stakeholders in providing effective care for elderly and/or frail persons. Public authorities, but also care providers, have a responsibility to support them in turn, and above all to integrate them into the care process. Professional care providers are ideally suited to offer psychological support, guidance and training. This is Korian’s approach, regularly organising “Carers’ Cafés” in its facilities to answer their questions. Short-term stay services are also a tool to relieve carers from their responsibilities on an ad hoc basis and thus reduce the potential for exhaustion. Supporting carers’ associations is another powerful lever to spread training, extend informal or semi-formal networks and encourage the sharing of experience. The partnerships that Korian has established with organisations such as France Alzheimer or the Red Cross are examples of high-value coordination to help address the needs of carers, who remain the cornerstone of efforts to reduce the impact of loss of autonomy.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING:
A European Care Strategy for caregivers and care receivers
Position Paper: the EU strategy on care
Infos Conseils : les aidants