Older Carers in Ageing Societies: An Evaluation of a Respite Care Program for Older Carers in Western Australia

Author(s): Hancock, P.J., Jarvis, J.A., and L’Veena, T.

Published In: Home Health Care Services Quarterly, 26 (2): 59-84

Study Aim/Purpose: To describe the Older Carers Program in Western Australia administered by the Australian Red Cross and whether it met its stated objectives and carried out its intended activities. This 22-month old program at the time of the research was designed to provide help for older carers of adults with disabilities through home visits, development of integrated care plans, encouragement of regular planned respite, referrals to needed service providers, and access to a database of volunteers. 

Summary of Methods: This was largely a process evaluation, with an audit of the program database designed to describe program participants and determine whether services provided met the program’s objectives. In-depth semi-structured telephone interviews with 62 older carers provided input on participant satisfaction and qualitative descriptions of their needs. Questionnaires completed by the four Program Coordinators provided input on program implementation successes and recommendations. 

Summary of Key Results: Older carers reported that the most useful aspects of the program for them were: (1) visit/support from the program staff, (2) respite, and (3) information giving. When asked to provide feedback on the quality of the program and satisfaction, the overwhelming majority of older carers provided high positive rating. The overwhelming majority also said the program had a positive impact on their role as a caregiver. However, when carers living in rural areas were compared to those living in metropolitan areas, the authors found differences in satisfaction with services, access to respite services, and perceptions of needs being met. Specifically, rural older carers reported lower satisfaction with the program, lack of respite services, staffing problems, and only 28% of carers in rural areas said their needs had been met, compared to 80% of the metropolitan carers. 

Study Limitations (as cited by authors): The authors note that their research was based on a small program, but suggest that the findings can apply to other population groups, particularly Western nations with aging populations and limited resources to assist older carers. 

Authors’ Discussion/Conclusions: The authors highlight the need for policy makers and program service agencies to address the unique position which older carers find themselves compared to other carers in the population. They suggest two issues as most prominent and important to address for this group: 1) the lack of suitable accommodation in long-term and respite services for the care recipients; and 2) the fact that most of the older carers have been in a caring role for decades. Although “planning for the future needs of the care recipient is fundamental,” many “could not face this prospect as it involved their loved one living alone in an institution.”