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This is Caring: Margaret

Margaret became a carer in her eighties after her partner, Hazel, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Margaret has found there are unique challenges to being an older carer.

Margaret i care

I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know what... Hazel’s driving wasn’t very good after she developed cataracts, but as her sight improved after treatment, her driving didn’t. She wasn’t responding and I suspected her memory was already going. I kept thinking: ‘Why is she doing that?’ That’s when I suggested we both take a memory test that our GP surgery had offered us. She needed further tests before they diagnosed her with Alzheimer’s disease about two years ago.

Before Hazel’s diagnosis we were enjoying our retirement. I’m a minister and I was ordained when I was 33 years old. I’ve lived all over the country and I met Hazel when I was a minister in Enfield, London. I’ve been officially retired for over twenty years, but I still do a little bit of work – as ministers do. I take a service locally about once a month and consult on various things that I’m still knowledgeable about.

Hazel’s health is pretty good right now, but I know it’s going to get much worse. Her father had Alzheimer’s but it was only diagnosed in the postmortem, so we both know what’s to come.

At the moment she can still be fairly independent. She can make a nice cup of coffee, but she can’t coordinate the cooking.

I make our main meals, but sometimes she prepares a few bits on a tray and I’ll carry it for her. Hazel also has coeliac disease and she used to make her own bread, but she can’t manage it now and we get her special bread from the village bakery. I do most things around the house but we have a cleaner who comes in once a week and tidies up.

Margaret i care 2

We play Scrabble every night – to keep the old brains going. I also like to relax with a paintbrush and I have an allotment, so in the afternoons I’m out there with the apple trees and keeping an eye on our soft fruit. Hazel doesn’t join me on the allotment – it’s not her interest and never has been. She’s usually fine back at the house reading.

Hazel likes to do things on her own, but she doesn’t always remember where she’s got to, and can’t find the way home. We have a good community and she always gets helped home by someone. In that way, I feel she’s secure in the village.

There are more challenges to becoming a carer in your eighties. I’m still recovering from my own injuries, which can be difficult. I slipped in wet weather and broke my ankle. I hopped around with my Zimmer frame, but Hazel had to care for me quite a lot. It still bothers me on some days, so we support each other.

We’re learning to write things down more. Recently Hazel went off for a loaf of bread, but instead came back with a bottle of cider, so we need to write things down. That said, the shops in our village are very helpful. We’ve lived here for nearly 20 years, since I retired, and really it’s like an extended family.

We renovated our porch for Hazel to sit in, now she can watch the world go by. People from the village stop to talk to her and I think that’s important.

I had handrails installed by Wiltshire Council and they have also been very useful for Hazel and her tumbles. She’s had a couple of really bad falls. She fell against a brick wall and that took a lot of getting over. It was a difficult fracture that couldn’t be plastered. She had another fracture to the same arm after falling on some steps. It was really quite nasty with three bone breaks.

I think being a carer is part of my nature. I would help anybody in need whether I knew them or not.

I felt like I became a carer even before the diagnosis when I noticed something wasn’t right.

I’m now learning to take advice as well as giving it. I speak to friends at a daycare centre, who give me advice on caring for Hazel.

I’m quite aware that I’m older and something might happen to me. Hazel’s brother is also involved and we’ve put things in place that allow for the fact that caring for someone at 84 is not ideal. At some point we might need an alternative situation, but not at the moment. When you’re in a close relationship, the last thing you want is to be parted.

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