For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health; this is the vow we take when we get married. We pledge to share our life with someone and grow old together. But no one plans to become the full time carer for their spouse. Imagine that as you do start to grow older, the person you had planned to spend your life with develops dementia. They can no longer take care of themselves, do not recognise you and are sometimes even aggressive and violent towards you.
We recently went to see a couple in their late 80`s and early 90`s. The wife had advanced dementia. Although elderly himself, her husband was her main carer. They have children but they don’t live nearby, so can’t be around on a daily basis to help. This meant he had to wash, dress, feed his wife as well as coping with her violent and aggressive behaviour. Imagine being in your 80s or 90s and having to look after your spouse who now often behaves nothing like the person you knew – they wander off, you can’t reason with them, they get easily distracted or upset, they lash out at you sometimes for no reason. You don’t get a break and you have no one to talk to about how you are feeling.
This can be stressful for anyone, but for someone in their 80s or 90s with little or no support, it can be unbearable. Add to this the fact that the person you love so deeply is someone you no longer recognise and it can become an almost impossible situation.
Someone had contacted the safeguarding unit who told us that the husband had on several occasions nearly carried out plans to kill his wife but, so far, had held back. We asked a social worker to visit urgently and worked with them on supporting the husband and wife.
This is abuse and needed addressing to keep his wife safe. It was also clearly a case of carer’s stress. This man was under so much pressure and didn’t know where to go. A social worker visited immediately and worked together with the safeguarding unit on relieving his stress and getting him some help to look after his wife. A family member stayed with the couple over the weekend. On Monday a support plan began with carers going in to help with washing, dressing and feeding her to give the husband a break and to make sure his wife was safe and cared for. This has relieved the husband’s stress, kept his wife safe and allowed them to stay together.
No one plans to become a carer but most carers will tell you that it is what anyone would do for someone they love. This makes it all the more important that we ensure carers get the support they need to continue caring, including keep them and the person they care for safe.