Irene tells us about caring for her husband Geoffrey, who has dementia

When the Covid-19 lockdown ends, most of us will build our new ‘normal’ on the simple things, like going to the hairdresser, having friends and family around and going to church again. But the most important will be reconnecting in a real way to people who are a part of our lives. For people who are caring at home for a loved one with dementia, this human connection and support is vital, and sadly, it has been missing during the weeks of isolation.

Irene Bosley is one of the millions of people caring at home for a spouse with dementia. Geoffrey (82) was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago, though Irene (78) says the symptoms were evident a few years before then. “He would forget things and do odd things,” she recalls, “When I talked to him about it, he would say, ‘it’s my age, wait until you get as old as me!’ But my daughter Jayne, who used to look after a couple of elderly people with dementia, noticed it, too. Eventually he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A recent assessment showed he is in the moderate to severe stage.”

Caring for a spouse with dementia is said to be one of the most difficult of caregiving roles. Carers have to be constantly vigilant, and they carry an emotional burden that can have serious physical consequences. They need support from others, and most importantly – respite. Before their social isolation, friends and people from church would visit and Geoffrey would go for two days a week to the October Club, a day centre in Wantage. Irene said, “He enjoys going to the club. They have lots of activities that he likes, especially colouring. They collect him at 9.30 in the morning and return him at 2.30 in the afternoon.”

Those two days give Irene breathing space and let her do things we take for granted. She said, “Being able to go and do some shopping, getting things and just looking around the shops. Sitting and having a coffee. The simple things.”

The respite had already become vital as it meant Irene could go into town alone. Taking Geoffrey with her had become increasingly difficult. She said, “I had to keep watching what he was doing, especially in the shops. And sometimes people would look warily at him. He’s going through a phase at the moment where he will talk to people’s pictures in magazines and, when we went out if he saw somebody’s picture smiling picture on a billboard he would back up and talk to them. People would back off us.”

Irene is grateful that when her friend Ruth, who used to be the administrator at our Framland home in Wantage, goes for a walk she knocks on her window. “I open it and we talk at a distance. It’s so lovely to be able to do that.”

This December will see Geoffrey and Irene’s 60th wedding anniversary. “Remembering how your loved one used to be and seeing that person slowly disappear, there have been tears,” she said. “At the moment he’s in a happy place, but sometimes he can say something unkind, so unlike him. It’s upsetting but I tell myself that this is the illness, not Geoff.”

As well as friends and family, Irene is grateful for a piece of advice given by a friend whose husband had died with dementia. “She told me that if Geoff got frustrated with something I was trying to do, like putting on his coat, to just stop and leave it for five minutes. Then go back and everything will be all right. She was right.

“The other thing is to lift everything to the Lord throughout the day and thank Him for what you’ve been able to do. He gives you strength.”

Do you know someone living alone with dementia in lockdown? For ways to support them, see here