Mary Sherwood, Founder
Mary’s personal experience was caring for her mother Margaret who had Vascular Dementia. Mary was working full-time and a single parent at that time.
Small things were noticed at first. As time went on these became more obvious. In the beginning, effort was spent fire fighting issues without understanding the root cause. Margaret was moved to a warden assisted flat near Mary in Devon. An outgoing person who made new friends easily and would talk to anyone, Margaret struggled to adapt to her new environment. Power of Attorney was created, but registered much later than it should have been. This was an effort to protect Margaret’s independence for as long as possible.
Fear of dementia means people do not recognise (or want to admit) that they have dementia. Diagnosis and help are then very difficult, putting more pressure on carers. When dementia first touched their family, like most new carers, they knew little or nothing about it and felt ill-equipped to deal with it. Feeling powerless to provide the help a person with dementia needs is very stressful.
Mary knew a colleague whose father had dementia. Meeting to chat over a coffee helped her to interpret the signs of progression whilst providing essential support. This consequently became the inspiration behind Carer Buddies.
The criteria for allowing Margaret to continue living independently, was that she was not a danger to herself or others. When unable to appreciate that she was hungry or thirsty or make herself a drink, the family knew something had to be done. Margaret had become a danger to herself and needed 24×7 care. A Care Home in Berkshire meant Margaret could be nearer to other family members. She had also returned to an area where more people knew her from her previous life.
When she died in November 2009 Mary had still not openly discussed Margaret’s dementia with her. A greater understanding of dementia could have helped Mary to do this sensitively. This might have reduced Margaret’s feeling of isolation by her condition.
Giving something back
In March 2014 Radio Devon wanted to make Devon a dementia friendly county. Mary had heard that there were more working people caring for elderly than children and recognised that a significant portion would be caring for a person with dementia. She decided to start an initiative to make the Met Office a Dementia Carer Friendly Workplace.
As a working carer Mary always did her best, but with what she has learned (and what she is still learning) her best would be very different now. Mary felt that although she could not change the past she could help others – her mother would have appreciated that. Most dementia carers have little or no knowledge. It seems so wasteful for everyone to have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when they could be supporting and helping one another – dementia carers need and deserve our support. They are at significant risk to their own health and wellbeing. We have a duty of care towards them.