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Story: Care and carers

Care work is not limited to childcare – elderly, disabled or dying people may also need care. From ‘putting away’ mentally disabled people in psychiatric institutions, to supporting the elderly to ‘age in place’, ideas about how best to care have changed.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Grandparents caring for grandson

Story Summary

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People may need care if they are elderly, physically or mentally disabled, or dying of a terminal illness. Care can be provided by paid workers or by friends or family.

Care of the elderly

In the 1800s elderly people who could not work depended on their families or went to live in places called benevolent institutions. In the 20th century many old people went to live in rest homes.

In the 1980s people began to think it was better for old people to keep living in their own homes with services like Meals on Wheels and household help. Only 7% of people over the age of 65 lived in rest homes in 2006.

Care of the dying

In the 19th century, people with terminal diseases were cared for at home. The first modern hospice in New Zealand, the Mary Potter Hospice, opened in 1979.

Hospices try to maintain people’s quality of life. At first they took in-patients, but they now support people living in their own homes too.

Care of the disabled

In the 1800s people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities were ‘put away’ in asylums.

Physically disabled people were more accepted. Some lived in special homes, but often they lived in the community. They did not receive much support until the Disabled Person’s Community Welfare Act was passed in 1975.

People began to oppose mental institutions at the same time. Between the 1980s and 2000s, nearly all mental hospitals closed. Some patients went to live with family. Others lived together as flatmates.


Being an unpaid carer can be stressful. It can affect the caregiver’s career and finances, and their relationships with others. Support services are now provided, including paid short-term care so carers can take a break.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Care and carers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 24 May 2017)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 May 2011