Mentally taxing: Dementia’s other cost
The proposed “dementia tax” fails to address the emotional toll carers endure
The much-maligned “dementia tax”, which emerged from the Conservative manifesto last week, sought to deal with the rising cost of caring for people with the condition. But while it may have tried to combat one cost, it ignored another: the mental toil the condition can take upon the carers themselves.
Branded “A Renewed Contract Between The Generations”, the one-and-a-half pages which outline the controversial “dementia tax” open with a key point: that the current care system for the elderly is not effective in providing the care needed by the UK’s ageing population.
The number of people in the United Kingdom suffering from any one of the many conditions which cause dementia continues to rise. As of 2015, the number of people in the UK living with the condition was close to 850,000. The UK’s ageing population ensures that this number will continue to rise over the coming years, and providing care, support and dignity to the many individuals who live with this condition is a major part of the health service. It also means that, in turn, costs will also continue to rise.
The Conservatives have proposed that individuals needing care in their own home or those being brought into a care home will have their assets assessed and valued. These individuals will then pay for their care in whatever format they need through these assets, until they have a valued total of £100,000 left. During this payment process, should an individual’s house need to be sold to pay for care then this will be postponed until the owner has passed away.
Criticism for the policy was high, as many noted individuals with conditions like dementia, who would more than likely require care, would be less likely to pass their houses onto family compared with individuals with conditions like cancer which would instead require hospitalisation. Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn attacked the policy and then returned for another blow after the Conservatives appeared to change the policy following the backlash.
“This isn’t strong and stable,” Corbyn said. “This is chaos.”
Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, called for a cross-party alliance to halt the plans, saying: “Caring for our elderly must be above party politics and that is why I want to urge anyone who opposes the Conservatives’ plans to come together to stop it.”
Farron, whose father-in-law has dementia, later visited a carers’ group in Manchester and said that while caring for a relative with dementia is in some ways “a great blessing”, it is also “emotionally draining and hard work”.
Like Farron and many other people in the United Kingdom, a relative of mine has dementia. My grandmother has lived with the condition for several years and the condition has slowly changed her in ways no one can truly articulate. She is still the woman who always greets me with a broad smile and reminds me to “be good” as I leave, yet there is a part of her obscured by her dementia.
For many carers and families, the shift in a person with dementia can be difficult to deal with, and this can have a real effect on their mental wellbeing. According to research by Alzheimer’s Research UK, carers noted that they could often become isolated, despite the deepened familial relationships caring could provide. The research also noted that carers could begin to ignore their own health and wellbeing as their responsibilities deepened.
With an estimated 700,000 people across the UK looking after a relative or loved one, supporting carers, both physically and mentally, is an important part of the care system. As the carer often provides primary support for the person with dementia, their wellbeing can have a major effect on the care they give.
The NHS suggests that carers take a break through respite care and talk regularly with a relative or friend about their worries. Research has noted that support from families can significantly reduce depression and distress among carers. Indeed, 40% of carers have been found to suffer from depression or anxiety, and if they had previously been diagnosed with a mental health issue they were more likely to be diagnosed again whilst under the stress of caring.
In 2010, a scientific review found that carers were more likely to have poorer overall health and experience guilt in relation to the level of care provided. They also reported that the mental wellbeing of the carer and the cared-for were interlinked – that one would affect the other and vice versa. Carers often deal with the social, economic and physical stress that conditions like dementia create and are thus often the secondary victims of a disorder that seems to steal a person before their very eyes.
Theresa May and the Conservatives’ controversial “Dementia Tax” may seek to deal with the economic burden care can put upon the country, but it fails to look upon the rising emotional cost that care in later life brings.
You can find more information and support for carers here.