Being A Family Carer
83-year-old Dick (not his real name) shares with us what his days are like caring for his 87-year-old wife Doris (not her real name) who has dementia.
Doris (not her real name) and I are widow/widowers. Doris is 87, I am 83. Our first spouses died in 1993. Doris and my first wife were friends. We got together late that year and have been married nearly 22 years. Doris was diagnosed with dementia in March 2015.
Becoming a family carer is an involuntary long term assignment. The carer has no choice but to learn and adapt. The process is demanding and exhausting – shopping, cooking, washing, dressing, bedmaking etc. Then one has to learn how to deal with somebody you love but whose brain has been irreparably damaged, so you are dealing effectively with a child aged three or four.
It is not easy always to avoid frustration, not to complain or argue, and accept that what has happened is not Doris’ fault. Her mental disease has brought about her condition. The choice is to accept a less than perfect life with Doris at home or endure the loneliness of oneself in an empty house and her stuck for ever in a care home.
An early problem was learning to cope with Doris’ frustration and aggression. She has her own slow pace for doing things. Try and move her faster, and the result is rebellion - or worse, with occasional kicking, biting or spitting. Doris may be 87 but she is still strong, capable for example of getting herself in and out of the bath.
When she is unduly aggressive, my response has been to get her settled on the sofa in the sitting room, sit down with her and let the aggression blow over in 10 minutes or so. Very often the cause is exhaustion, and the best cure to let her sleep for an hour or more.
It has taken us some time to adapt to a professional carer coming in for an hour or two every day, but their help and understanding is invaluable.
Doris’ dementia became easier to handle once we had overcome two problems, correct medication and incontinence. I had to explore, without being embarrassed, the ‘female care’ shelves in the supermarket for the appropriate pads (we call them) for night and day. Now we have a daily routine of appropriate pads, and medication at breakfast time and evening. That said, it is important to keep a surreptitious eye on where the tablets are going. The other day Doris, like a naughty three year old, dropped on purpose a tablet down the kitchen drain!
Doris wears hearing aids. When she was diagnosed with dementia she would hide or remove them and we were for ever doing without or applying for more. Now she is less mobile, the hiding is less frequent and we have a settled routine for putting them away at night.
Memory failure features large in making appointments – why, where and when? - and travelling to places with which Doris she is supposedly familiar but has not seen for a while. My real home is Wales, but we are finding it increasingly difficult to get there. Not only packing the suitcase but explaining we shall be going. Yet when we get there Doris settles down happily and does not want to come back.
Doris and I have always shared a bed and continue happily to do so. The best moment of the day is switching the light off, exchanging a kiss or two and settling down for the night. Neither of us has much use for TV so we start for bed not long after 9.00pm. I get up around 8.00am and hope Doris will stay there. That is the time of day I am free to do my own thing.
by Dick (not my real name)