Chris, Irene and Rodger enjoying afternoon tea

Caring for my father-in-law with dementia left us exhausted and overwhelmed

Chris’s father-in-law, Rodger, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. As his condition progresses, Chris and his wife Irene have felt dementia dominating their lives. He hopes that sharing their experiences can create positive change.

My father-in-law, Rodger, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in November 2016 when he was 88 years old.   

Rodger has two big passions in his life – Morris 1000 cars and boats. Before his diagnosis he would spend many hours at his boat yard, rebuilding old lifeboats and fitting them out for fishing trips with the family. Even when he was 82 years old, I would still find him tinkering in the boatyard – sometimes in the pouring rain!   

Over the years Rodger rebuilt 10 boats, all 30-40ft long. So last year his Grandson made him a bird feeder in the shape of a boat – we call it Rodger’s 11th boat.   

A birdhouse in the shape of a boat

Rodger's '11th boat' 

Rodger grew up in Newcastle and Gateshead and worked as a welder – on ships, buses and all kinds of machinery.

When he was young, he would walk the eight miles to Durham with his Dad to compete in rowing races on the River Wear. They would  carry their heavy wooden oars all the way! 

Changes in Rodger 

Around eight years ago we noticed that Rodger was struggling with his memory and was sometimes behaving out of character. My wife Irene, Rodger’s daughter, would check in several times a day and family members would visit throughout the week. They found he was not taking his medication or eating his meals.   

We began to bring Rodger home to live with us for a couple of weeks at a time to care for him. 

‘Although he enjoyed his visits to us, he would always miss his home and his boatyard.’  

Two pictures of Rodger on his boat. One older in black and white, and one more recent

Rodger worked as a welder and rebuilt boats in Newcastle and Gateshead

In 2016 Rodger suffered a heart attack and came to live with Irene and I full time. He was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly afterwards. A few years later Irene and I stopped working to care for Rodger and moved to a new house that could better accommodate his needs.  

Over the last three years we saw a decline in Rodger’s health and were unable to leave him by himself. As Rodger’s condition deteriorated, he became more confused and needed increasing assistance and personal care. After being admitted to hospital in August 2021, Rodger was transferred to a care home.   

The impact of caring with 'no safety net'

Caring for Rodger has been exhausting, both physically and emotionally for Irene and I. As a carer for someone with Alzheimer’s, your life feels dominated by the condition, and often feels overwhelmed.  

‘We struggled to continue with our lives outside of caring for Rodger and I can honestly say it was the most difficult time of my life.’ 

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It was a really hard decision for us to admit Rodger to the care home, but Irene and I had reached breaking point. We know that in the care home he is getting the 24-hour support and care he needs and deserves.   

We’re a close family, and Irene and I had support from our children and other family members. But despite this, we felt there was no safety net in place when we were struggling.

Rodger and family members sit around a dinner table with Christmas decorations

Rodger and family celebrating at Christmas

Sharing our experience 

Our experiences caring for Rodger, and the lack of support for those in a similar position made me want to support the work of Alzheimer’s Society.   

As part of this I recently met my Member of Parliament to share our experiences and talk to her face-to-face about the challenges of caring for someone living with dementia.  

‘I think it’s really important that those who are making decisions about social care hear from people who have first-hand experience.’

During my meeting with my MP she made some positive comments about ‘our' commitment to caring for my father-in-law. But I'm not convinced that she will prioritise her efforts in giving the essential support to carers we require. 

Therefore it is imperative that as many of us as possible meet our MPs to press our case for minimal support!

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