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Mary's story

Mary Roe looks after her husband, 65, who has early-onset dementia, the couple live in Tonbridge, Kent. She has been caring for him for nine years. She also cared for her elderly mother for five years before she died.

As well as dealing with the demands of caring, Mary was a full-time primary school teacher until recently.

Looking after her husband takes time and dedication and Mary has only recently discovered groups for carers which could help her and her husband.

Two things changed her perspective on caring and made her realise that services were available to help carers.

First, she saw a television interview with former newsreader John Suchet, in which he spoke about caring for his wife, who has dementia. Mary says: "Mr Suchet talked about how he’d been helped by Admiral Nurses [specialist dementia care nurses]. Until then, I’d been finding things out by accident. So when I was invited to a carers meeting, I went the following Tuesday and that’s how I found out about Carers FIRST, my local carers centre."

Health problems

The other reason Mary found out about the help available to carers was an accident she had. Mary says: "Two years ago, I broke my ankle in two places, so I couldn’t look after my husband.

"The critical care team from the hospital arranged for someone to look after him, but it made me think, if anything like that happened to me again, what would I do? I don’t want him to go into a care home as it would be very different from living in his own home."

Mary is now looking forward to getting respite care from homecare workers, who are provided by Carers FIRST in Tonbridge. These care workers (there are 15 of them) are either free or available at a heavily subsidised rate. Mary says that the great advantage of Carers FIRST care workers is that the centre arranges for the worker to meet and sit with the person beforehand.

"They build up a relationship with the person being cared for, so it's not like they're a complete stranger," Mary says. "The care workers strike up a good friendship with the people they look after."

Respite and choice

Carolyn Brockman, a team leader at Carers FIRST, says that most carers who get respite find that it allows them to choose what they want to do with their time, whether it's getting their hair done or spending some time with other family members.

There is a waiting list for the popular regular respite service, but Carers FIRST tries to give carers one-off breaks, such as taking young carers to the zoo or rock climbing. It also offers a range of other practical services, such as putting carers in touch with safe, reliable and cheap handymen and doing outreach sessions in isolated rural areas.

Lynn Webb, adult carers’ team leader at Carers FIRST, says that when offering support, it is often impossible to separate the emotional considerations of caring from the practical.

"If you're an older person yourself, you may have practical difficulties with hands-on caring. But also, many people have had traditional relationships where the wife did the housework and the men paid the bills. I had one carer who’d never written a cheque," she says.

The main problem is that carers and the people they're looking after are often unaware of the help that's available to them.

"We find that when we ask people if they have thought of using a particular service, often they never knew the service existed," Webb says.

This was the case with Mary, who now also benefits from courses at the Carers FIRST centre, including training in the practicalities and emotional impact of caring.

Mary says: "Those things are very important. But it’s also important to meet people in the same situation, exchange information and to know that there’s someone on the end of the phone if you need them. Exchanging telephone numbers with other carers is a good idea."

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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