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Lay Summary
Thinking about caring for older relatives in the future: A qualitative exploration
Madeleine Stevens, Nicola Brimblecombe, Camille Bou, Raphael Wittenberg, April 2022


Currently it is estimated that about one fifth of people between the ages of 50 and 64 are providing care for a relative with care and support needs. Research has suggested that there will be a 69% rise between 2015 and 2040 in the number of older people who need support to help them live their lives. Other research has estimated only a 16% rise between 2015 and 2035 in the number of people who are likely to provide ‘unpaid care’ for their older relatives in the future. On current estimates, therefore, there is likely to be a substantial ‘care gap’, in the future, and there are concerns over who will provide care for older people in need of support. 


In our research we tried to find out more about people’s considerations when thinking about whether and how they would provide care for their older relatives in the future, and what might help them to do so. We also wanted to find out what activities – work or leisure - people thought they might reduce or give up in order to care for their relative. The study was intended to inform the design of a much larger survey of attitudes to providing future unpaid care for older relatives, by helping us consider the kinds of responses people might give, and the questions that might help us understand people’s thinking.


We carried out 20 one-to-one phone interviews with people aged 40 to 65 with an older living ‘parent figure’ (not necessarily a biological parent). We asked them about their general attitude to who should provide care for older relatives, what they thought they would do if one of their own relatives needed support (referring to one older relative of their choice), what the implications would be for other aspects of their lives, and what might help them to provide care. Interviewees were asked to choose one older relative as the focus of the parts of conversation which were about specific care tasks. This was so that we could get a good level of detail and understanding, making the conversation specifically about individual relationships and circumstances. This also helped keep the interviews to a manageable length for participants. We discussed the study with some of ASCRU’s public advisors and with other stakeholders, such as carers’ organisations, and representatives of the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care, and we sought feedback on our initial interview questions.


People mentioned a variety of different factors which they took into consideration when thinking about whether and how they would provide care for their relative in the future. People’s willingness to care was influenced by three broad sets of beliefs:

Beliefs about love, identity and repaying care received from parents
Interviewees had little sense of feeling compelled to provide care. People referred to it being just ‘what you do’, about care being pay back for care parents had given to them, and wanting to care because of love for their parents. When talking about how care would be provided, the older relative’s own desires (for example about where to live) were key considerations.


Beliefs about who was likely to provide the best quality and most appropriate care
People had different views: some felt that professionals would provide the best care and most dignity for the relative, for example where personal care was needed, while others felt personal care should be provided by a relative. While they recognised that professionals could have valuable skills in caring, there was also a feeling that services were overstretched, and staff underpaid. There were also some concerns about the trustworthiness of paid carers. 


Beliefs about how difficult caring would be
People mentioned the potential challenges of providing personal care for a relative, or, for example, care for a relative with advanced dementia. Their other main considerations were around the amount of time needed to provide the type of daily care we asked about. People thought about potential impacts on their employment, families, health and personal finances. Interviewees considered ways they could organise the provision of meals, and how care could be shared between family and friends. There was an awareness of the potential impacts of caring, and half of interviewees said they would reduce or give up work in order to provide care, while others said this would not be possible. People felt they would spend less time on leisure and social activities, and with their own families, in order to provide care. In some cases, people’s stated intentions about providing future care altered somewhat during the conversation, as more detail was discussed, and the potential challenges and impact were considered.

Interviewees saw important roles for easily accessible information and advice, sharing care with others, including respite care, and financial support, in making it easier to provide care. Some felt that technological solutions could help, including video calls, alarms, surveillance, and making it easier for older people to use the internet independently e.g. for shopping and socialising.


The findings have been considered by a team in the Government’s Department of Health and Social Care, who are considering how policy can help address the challenges of providing care for older people in the future. The findings were used to help design a survey of 3,600 people, which aimed to get a more representative picture of people’s thoughts about caring for their relatives in the future, and what might help them to provide care. The survey took place between September 2020 and January 2021.

The findings from the interview study have been published in an academic paper in the journal Ageing & Society which is available online here:

Stevens M, Brimblecombe N, Bou C, Wittenberg R (2022) Thinking about caring for older relatives in the future: A qualitative exploration, Ageing and Society, 1-20. doi:10.1017/S0144686X21002002


View journal paper (external website)


Madeleine Stevens, 

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