Local Carer Frank Calder,
tells his story about Caring for his parents and
the support he received from
North Staffs Carers
When did my caring roll for my elderly parents begin? It’s almost impossible to say with any certainty.
I suppose I started to “look out” for them in their retirement, by that I mean keeping a watch on them to ensure bills were paid, pensions organised, gardening done, car serviced, taxed and insured, all those myriad of things we all get forgetful and confused about in old age.
Then, of course, begins the time when I began to “look after” them. Those things that at the time are all so obvious but in hindsight are particularly difficult to define, taking them to hospital and doctors surgeries for appointments, helping to do the housework, doing the lions share of the
gardening, making sure they’re warm, well fed and comfortable. All that before any “caring” function starts.
There was a point in Dads life when I realised for the first time that he was very old. We were taking a family holiday on Scotland’s Black Isle and were told of a break-in to Mum and Dads house and had to return early. This was the turning point for Dad. After a lifetime of being confident and in
control, he was suddenly left utterly confused and bewildered. Shortly after he was diagnosed as having Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a particularly evil brain disease which rampages at some of the brain function, in that Dad couldn’t walk, he couldn’t talk, his sight was affected, he couldn’t control his bodily functions very well and he couldn’t swallow without often choking, so he had to be fed and meal times took forever.
As if not enough of a litany of problems, most of the higher brain functions were unaffected, thought, most memory, so to be blunt, the
disease made damned sure Dad was fully aware of how ill he was, even making it
almost impossible for him and the rest of us to sleep at night. I suppose the only saving grace at the time was that there were two of us looking after him, Mum and I.
During this time I had my first contact with the North Staffs Carers Association. In about the year 2000 they had a display caravan parked outside M&S in Hanley, purely by coincidence just on the day I happened to be in Hanley shopping. I had a long chat with the guy in there and will always remember his courtesy, understanding and helpfulness.
Dad died on 5th April 2003. After his death Mum aged overnight. During the February before Dad died they celebrated their 60th Wedding
Anniversary, and to be parted from her soulmate of so long for her was tragic. Now she needed “looking after”. In all the months and years after Dads death I never saw Mum cry. I knew she had, I could tell, but that was the way people of her generation behaved.
The intervening years for her were contented and perhaps happy. I had sold my little home and moved in with her to be her live-in “Carer”.
Then, in about 2010-2011 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. What did this mean for us?
Were all the terrible stories banded about true? What was her prognosis? Medics couldn’t say, and help was in particularly short supply.
Then I recalled the kind words of that chap from the North Staffs Carers Association I had talked to in Hanley all those years ago, and in 2013 I made the initial contact. The receptionist put me through to Claire Bolton. She listened carefully and intelligently and took down all the relevent details suggesting that, after discussing my case with her bosses and colleagues to determine the best help for Mum and me, she would get back within a few weeks.
By this time Mums condition had deteriorated, her caring demands had increased considerably. The sense of isolation was beginning to tell on me. Claire rang and suggested that she arrange befriending ‘phone calls every week or so. I cannot emphasise enough the benefit these calls were to make to my life. During her last few months Mum was extremely frail, she was doubly incontinent.
They were challenging times and the calls saved my sanity. Little help was provided by any other agency other than that provided by the North Staffs Carers Association and Claire.
My Mum died in early September 2015, Dad
having died in 2003, and again I contacted NSCA. It wasn't long before Claire was busy on my
behalf. She organised a series of informal meetings between us at NSCA to discuss my immediate and near future needs to occupy my time, give my life focus and to be with other people both at NSCA and elsewhere. She gave me information about dealing with grief, study courses, nearby walking groups, group activities and also, within NSCA, the group activities she thought would be suitable for me.
The Camera Club, suggested by Claire, has been an enormous success for me, I had a deep interest in photography years ago, before caring took over my life and slowly I'm getting back into it with the help of that wonderful group of people. Claire kept a discreet eye on me for the first few weeks to make sure I was ok.
It's true to say that now I have more interests than I've had in a good while, a reason for getting up in the morning and a reason for going out. So, you see since Mums death Claire has been there for me, always there, always helping, always encouraging, always understanding, always Claire! She has understood that I need to be with groups of people, that is fundamental for my rehabilitation.
My recovery is ongoing, with North Staffs Carers help we'll get there!