Up to 75 percent of carers could be putting their health at risk

Posted 3 weeks ago by Georgie Waters
Carers spend much of their time looking after others, but getting enough sleep is still an aspect to consider. [Source: Shutterstock]
Carers spend much of their time looking after others, but getting enough sleep is still an aspect to consider. [Source: Shutterstock]

Although carers spend a lot of time looking after others, research suggests that they also need to make enough time for themselves.

Key points:

Over two and a half million Australians are carers, with 37 percent of carers experiencing disability themselves, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Approximately 4.4 million Australians live with disability and may require assistance from carers for daily living.

Up to a third of unpaid carers provide assistance for 40 hours or more each week, leaving these carers with possible financial concerns and exhaustion. 

Unpaid carers support others with disability and are often friends or family members. Eligible Australians can access the Carer Payment, with details on the Centrelink website about how to claim aid. 

The carer and the person with disability must both be eligible for the Carer’s Payment to be received.

The carer must:

  • have been caring for this person for six months or more or be providing end-of-life care;
  • be working or studying fewer than 25 hours per week;
  • not be receiving Department of Veterans’ Affairs payments.

The person requiring care must:

  • require constant care such as physical care or supervision;
  • have a disability or medical condition expected to last longer than six months or be receiving end-of-life care.

For more information regarding your circumstance, refer to the Services Australia website.

Additionally, over 235,000 Australians under the age of 25 are unpaid carers who provide essential support for a family member or friend, as per the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics

If you are a young carer seeking support for yourself, services are available on the Department of Human Services website.

While caring for others may cause financial strain, carers may be exposed to risks that could impact their sleep and ability to care for themselves.

Previous studies suggested that up to 75 percent of carers experience sleep disturbance, as some carers may need to provide care during the night. 

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Dr Nicole Higgins expressed the importance of why Australians should increase their understanding of sleep health.

“Sleep is a vital part of health. By working with your GP to ensure you get enough sleep, we can head off issues that will reduce your quality of life and potentially identify underlying issues before they become a bigger problem,” said Dr Higgins.

Australians between the ages of 26 and 64 years should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night, according to the Sleep Foundation. More than 10 or fewer than six hours of sleep is not recommended for this age group. 

A lack of sleep can contribute to an increased risk of depressive symptoms, poorer health and increased stress levels.

In an Australian study of mothers with children living with disability, 49 percent were woken during the night at least four nights per week and experienced sleep disturbances. Researchers found that the health of these women was poorer than their peers who got less disturbed sleep.

Carers’ sleep may be disturbed by needing to help the person with disability go to the toilet or attend to their medical needs. Noise or ongoing worry about the person with disability may also negatively impact a carer’s sleep.

The Red Book provides doctors with guidelines and recommendations to ensure that patients’ receive the most appropriate treatments. RACGP published the first edition of the Red Book in 1989.

Professor Danielle Mazza, chair of the Red Book Committee, explained that some Australians may not realise that seeing a doctor could improve one’s sleep concerns.

“Nearly half of Australians experience at least two sleep-related problems,” she said.

“Issues with sleep [may] affect people of all ages and while some are more apparent to a patient like obstructive sleep apnoea and insomnia, other sleep issues can be more subtle. If you have had trouble falling or staying asleep or you find yourself tired throughout the day, you should speak to your GP to receive advice to help you get back on track,” said Professor Mazza.

Professor Mazza commented that getting good quality sleep can have a greater impact on general health than some Australians might realise.

“Poor sleep can have significant negative effects on a patient’s physical and mental health and it can sneak up on people when they’ve been stressed or experienced a change in their lives,” she said.

Being a carer can be stressful and many people experience symptoms of burnout. In a study published in the Australian Journal of General Practice, researchers found that ‘27 percent of carers had high psychological distress.’

Other factors that can impact a carer’s mental health may include the feeling of having too many responsibilities, redefining a relationship when caring for a loved one and not realising the challenging nature of being a carer. 

For unpaid carers, experiencing burnout is possible and should be managed accordingly. Talking to a healthcare professional, asking for help and making time for self-care are all important aspects to consider when caring for a loved one.


Are you a carer of a person with disability? How has this role affected your sleep quality?

Let the team at Talking Disability know on social media. 

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