Ancient carer culture

Carers are invaluable – without them, our elderly wouldn’t have the care they need. That’s why people in caring roles have long been an integral part of society.

It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date when the role of carers was established, but bones of an early human (very early – think 500,000 years ago) showed that this person had both been elderly and disabled at the time of his death. It’s therefore thought that he would have had a carer or community of carers to survive to this state.

It’s unlikely that this early human would’ve had a paid carer, but instead it was most likely a family member. Family carers were the norm for much of history, with employed carers outside of the family unit being a relatively new arrangement.

Here’s a timeline of ancient carer culture across the globe:

2nd Century

The Roman Empire was expanding during this period and in the year 104, Roman Egyptian census records revealed that many households were multi-generational. People obviously didn’t live as long as they do these days though, so the house elder was likely to be no older than 40 or 50.


Whiz forward 17 centuries to the 1820s and things were clearly very different. Not only was the electric magnet, matches and Braille discovered in this decade, a new type of home opened – aged care facilities. The Indigent Widows’ and Single Women’s Society opened in Philadelphia in 1817, providing a place of care for elderly women. It was the first non-sectarian organisation of its kind in America.

1860s - 1890s

District nursing was established in England around the 1860s, specifically in Liverpool where a local philanthropist hired a nurse called Mary Robinson to care for his sick wife. Mary then went onto offer home-based care to elders around Liverpool.

Based on this UK model, America’s Visiting Nurse Society began in 1893, sending its nurses, social workers and therapists to care for poor senior citizens in their homes. This organisation is still operating today, with over 12,000 home health care agencies across America.


While nursing homes had been around in countries like America and England since the 17th century, they became more common in the mid 1960s. This was due to the establishment of initiatives such as Medicare and increased standards of elder care.


In the 21st century there are many options for elder care, whether it be in home, in a hospice or an aged care facility. There are still cultural differences for this care, with a greater emphasis on caring still being the domain of families in countries such as China.
With over 185 million people over the age of 60, China considers familial elder care so essential that in 2013 a law was passed stating adult children must visit their elderly parents or face a fine or jail! This hasn’t trickled down to Australia…but it could be just a matter of time, so make sure you don’t leave that family visit too long.

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