Carl's wooden donkey in a friend's garden

Woodworking to keep the mind active: Liz and Carl's dementia story

Liz and her husband, Carl who has vascular dementia, have been in the crafting business since the late 1970s. Since Carl's early retirement at 48 years old, they now spend time together making wooden animals for their friends’ gardens.

My husband Carl was diagnosed with vascular dementia six years ago after living with heart disease for 25 years and a major heart attack.  

We have been married for 47 and a half years. We have two children, both living with a degenerating connective tissue disease that significantly affects them and their immune system. Here's a photo of Carl with our daughter.

Carl with his daughter

Ever since my husband’s dementia diagnosis, we had to make certain he wasn’t left alone at home.

Carl forgets to be careful when using his wood-working tools. In shops, Carl has been known to try and go up the down escalator, even when other people are accompanying him.  

‘Carl tires and gets clumsy, forgetting he has heart disease and chronic bronchitis.’  

He needs to be told when to finish something and rest. Carl will forget to eat if not prompted. 

He also needs a CPAP machine whilst sleeping as his heart and lungs don’t function sufficiently to keep him breathing. Without the machine he stops breathing 38 times per five minutes which until diagnosed nearly took his life.  

During our marriage, Carl has nearly died seven times through various health problems.

A wooden scarecrow wearing a bunting mask

‘Notice the scarecrow is keeping others safe from coronavirus by wearing his bunting as a face mask!’

Carl’s early retirement

Before he retired, Carl was a communications officer. Previously, we ran a homemade craft business since 1979 - long before home crafters were popular! Carl made wooden animals and was commissioned to do paintings.  

On one occasion, he painted a summer beach scene on a garage forecourt window from the inside so had to paint it back to front for a competition. When my daughter was 14, she and Carl painted and decorated scenes for our local children’s hospital. 

But after a major heart attack that left part of his heart muscle dead, Carl had to retire, aged 48. 

Carl's wooden giraffe and deer

Two of Carl's wooden animals - a deer and a giraffe

Spending time making wooden animals 

Since retirement, Carl has kept himself busy making things from logs, which people love to have in their gardens. 

The animals take him roughly a day each to make. The giraffes take the longest as they are tiny to work on his lathe and fiddly to finish. 

‘These homemade crafts keep his mind active. The only problem is he loses all track of time and must be reminded to eat and drink!’ 

We have a caravan as a little hide-out that we retreat to; for me to knit and sew in, and for Carl to draw his pictures in. He has never had formal art classes; his brother taught him at home. 

Carl hand paints on to wood then varnishes it. These are then hung from our front fence and gate for people to see as they pass by. We now make things for people free of charge for them to enjoy. 

A painting of a cat saying hello next to a wooden picture of a sheep

Artwork of a cat saying 'Hello' and a wooden scene with a sheep

Looking ahead 

Carl is enjoying being here in our home, garden, caravan and his beloved workshop. So much so that he says he has no inclination to venture into the outside world again! 

‘He’s perfectly happy doing his artwork, making his wooden animals for others, and doing his word-searches.’ 

Carl misses our daughter’s puppy, so he may just venture out for a visit, but not for a very long time. He says he wants to wait until the coronavirus alert number is zero. Carl wants to live as safely as possible as long as possible enjoying his gifts.

Painting of a pig with 'Keep smiling'

Painting of a pig with the message 'Keep smiling'

My advice for others affected by dementia and long-term health conditions

Find something you enjoy doing, even if it’s just watching soaps. Our daughter, who is shielding at present, is watching old episodes of The Golden Girls to take her mind off her pain.  

We have over the years learned that a good day is to be enjoyed, and on a not-so-good day we find something to divert each other from being too sad about it.  

Over the many years of our family’s ill health, I’ve learnt patience from sitting beside their hospital beds, knitting or doing embroidery, usually while they slept knowing someone who loved them was beside them. 

‘It’s not been easy, but I know we have become stronger as a family.’ 

I’m not saying we haven’t had 'pity parties’ or cried ourselves to sleep, because we have, and I’m sure we will do more of those. But we have tried to see the good things in life. We have all been fortunate to have our gifts of crafts. 

It has been, and hopefully will continue to be, our privilege to be able to help so many people through our experiences. 

Activity ideas for people with dementia at home

Keeping active and purposeful when staying at home will help fight off boredom and frustration. Here are some activities you can try at home.

Find out more
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