Living with dementia magazine May 2012
Living alone when your loved one is in a care home
We can all feel loneliness sometimes but for many carers it is a stark reality, particularly if their loved one no longer lives at home. Luke Bishop talks to one carer who has found a life of activity to be of help.
Letting go can be a hard thing to do, and when you have shared your life and home with someone for decades the sudden loss of such a familiar presence can leave many feeling empty and bereft. In recent months Living with dementia has received many letters from carers describing such feelings.
When Cynthia Rickards' husband of 50 years moved into a care home, she found that, after an initial period of relief, a feeling of loneliness set in.
Safety and well-being
Murray, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2000 and later developed Alzheimer's disease, was being cared for at home but was walking out of the house and getting lost. Cynthia was also concerned for her own well-being and so, with the support of her family, it was decided that Murray should move into a care home.
'We live in the country and there are four doors out of the house, and not all of them could be securely locked. One of the times he went down to the back field and I had to alert my neighbours in the pitch dark that he had gone.
'When he was found he was in the beginnings of exposure. It was at that point that I felt that for his safety and for my peace of mind Murray should move to a care home, with the agreement of my sister and my brother-in-law. I was also increasingly worried that I would have a breakdown and then the decision and the choice would have been taken out of my hands. Whereas, I made the decision with the support of my family and found somewhere suitable.'
Still his home too
After Murray moved out of their home Cynthia says that the initial feeling was that of a 'great release' from the duties of a full-time carer. However, after a while, Cynthia felt a solitude which she describes as a 'strange, ongoing bereavement'.
'He went into the care home in November and it was after Christmas in the early months of the following year the realisation hit that I was on my own. I am fortunate in that my daughter lives in the village with her children, and my other daughter is supportive as are my brother-in-law and sister.
'I still feel that it is his home as well and this comes over me quite a bit. I had a new kitchen put in and I thought "what would Murray think and how would he feel?" In the garden as I am doing things I think about the flowers and plants he had chosen. It is a very strange kind of bereavement but it is an ongoing thing.'
Cynthia describes herself as an active and outgoing person and leads a busy life, which she says helps her deal with the situation. She is an active church member at St Lucia's in the village of Upton Magna, near Shrewsbury. Helping to prepare the church before services, she writes and edits the parish magazine as well as occasionally singing in the church choir.
'I recently joined the U3A [University of the Third Age] and I also volunteer at Attingham Park, which is a local National Trust property, once a week. I have only been doing that for a few months but that is very good for meeting people and I talk to the children who visit the home.
'Doing that has opened up other social activities as they have special talks and trips. I also go to the gym twice a week - my life is very full.'
Cynthia visits Murray two or three times a week and she says that the knowledge that he would want her to keep continuing her active lifestyle and not be unhappy gives her great comfort.
'There is one thing that carers should consider and that is how their partner, if he or she were fully functional, would wish them to continue their lives.
'We all have our own life to live and our partners would not want their illness to impinge on our lives.'
If you are a carer who is feeling lonely or isolated and you're in need of emotional or practical support, you can contact the National Dementia Helpline on 0845 3000 336 in England and Wales or 028 9066 4100 in Northern Ireland.
Become a member to receive each issue of the magazine.