Sue Bensley looks after her husband Charlie who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year ago. However, Sue has health problems of her own and before Charlie became ill, he was looking after Sue who has ME, fibromyalgia, osteo-arthritis, back problems and is a wheelchair user.
According to Sue, Charlie’s behaviour began to change gradually but it came to a head one day last year when Charlie drove into North Walsham and suddenly found he couldn’t remember what to do with the car. He managed to get back home safely and told Sue what had happened. This was their starting point to get professional help and Charlie’s diagnosis came shortly afterwards.
Sue says that looking back, she wishes she’d acted sooner, as this wasn’t the first time she’d had cause to worry:
“I wish I’d spoken out at least a year before. There were several little things that made me wonder. Anxiety levels were raised. We began planning our golden wedding anniversary in 2015 for the following year. It was just going to be a small do but it was causing a lot of stress for Charlie and this was very out of character.
Charlie’s also a big Norwich City fan and when Norwich went through a rough patch, it was really affecting him – much more than it would have normally. I’d never known him to get so frustrated.”
Sue says they get by from helping each other at the moment, “We complement each other. Some things I do for Charlie, some things he does for me. What I would say, is that if you have the slightest suspicion about a family member, act as soon as you can as there is a lot of help out there.”
Sue and Charlie have had support from Alzheimer’s Society but also Norfolk Carers, which has provided the couple with a support worker, Murdo Alderton-Macleod. Murdo has been a great help according to Sue:
“Murdo came in the first three months of the diagnosis and he’s just been a great person to talk to. He spent a whole morning here originally, so we’ve been very well served. He’s been willing to answer any questions and has tried to take into account my own physical needs. Murdo seems to acknowledge the effect of the situation on both of us – it’s not just about Charlie and his needs – he brings the caring role into perspective. I would encourage anybody to take whatever help is offered.”
Murdo from Norfolk Carers says the couple have had to deal with the changing dynamic in their relationship, which – on top of everything else – can be challenging, “There has been a gradual handing over of the caring role; for Charlie, adjusting to become the dependent and for Sue learning to take on new responsibilities. It’s not easy and people can really benefit from the right kind of help and support.”
The couple have also had support from the town’s Cameo Café at Furze Hill – which supports those living with dementia and their carers. It has provided Sue with a break and new faces for Charlie to interact with.
Charlie is still keeping up with Norwich City FC – jotting down match results, and noting down who scored in each game– something which he started some 60 years previously and hasn’t given up yet, “I said I was going to stop but my grandson has encouraged me to carry on. I’ll pass the books on to him when I finish.”