RA dayA recent survey of carers, released during Carers Week 2014 by national disability charity Vitalise, has revealed the immense emotional and physical strain that a lack of respite opportunities is having on the UK’s 6.5 million carers.

More than 80% of the carers surveyed by Vitalise said that they put the health of the loved one they care for before their own wellbeing, with 60% saying that a lack of time away from caring leads them to feelings of depression. Shockingly, a further 60% said that long periods without a break resulted in their getting angry at the person they care for.

However, despite the obvious risks, the survey found that 4 out of 10 (39%) carers have not taken a single day off from caring in the past year.

The biggest barrier preventing carers from seeking respite was shown to be carers’ concerns that nobody else would be able to care for their loved ones, with 46%, followed by guilt at leaving them (39%) and worry that they would not be looked after properly in a care home (23%).

Further reading: Dr Mark Pemberton's Practical advice for carers from the palliative care frontline

The beneficial effects of regular breaks for carers were highlighted. Nearly half (46%) of carers surveyed said it made them feel more able to cope and over a third said that they felt happier and healthier. However, over a fifth (21%) said that afterwards they felt guilty that they had left a loved one in order to take time off.

One in eight of the adult population - an estimated 6.5 million people - act as unpaid carers for older, ill or disabled loved ones in the UK, with around 6,000 people taking on new caring responsibilities each day. Carers UK estimates that carers save the UK economy 119 billion each year - an average of £18,473 per carer. People providing high levels of care are twice as likely to become permanently sick or disabled than the general population, with 625,000 people suffering mental and physical ill health as a direct consequence of the stress and physical demands of caring.

Vitalise Chief Executive Chris Simmonds said: “The survey’s findings paint a shocking picture of what is sadly a reality for many carers living in the UK. A lack of access to respite breaks can leave carers feeling mentally and physically exhausted. Many carers work relentlessly to provide their loved one with the care and attention they require, often to the detriment of their own physical and psychological wellbeing. That’s why we believe it is so important to show that help is available. We know that in providing ongoing support to carers it is possible to prevent them from feeling completely exhausted and unable to carry on, something that we know puts both the carer and the cared for at serious risk."

Vitalise is a national charity providing essential respite breaks for people with disabilities – including Alzheimer’s and dementia - and carers at three accessible UK centres in Chigwell in Essex, Southampton and Southport, with 24-hour nursing care on-call, personal support and a range of accessible excursions, activities and entertainment.