Dorothy and Robert are a mother and son team who have been coming to Leuchie for occasional short breaks for the past few years. Robert has multiple sclerosis and his mum is his main carer.
Like many people with MS, Robert’s condition went undiagnosed for years. Always a sociable chap, he loved his job as a branch manager at the Co-op but would often suffer from intense migraines and had to be signed off from work for weeks as a time. Regular falls from childhood onwards were, with hindsight, another tell-tale sign. However, it wasn’t until Robert’s colleagues had to carry him home from work one day that he was finally diagnosed with MS.
Dorothy’s husband had passed away a few years before and they only had each other, so they did what every loving family would do. They grouped together and Dorothy, who had never heard of MS until then, took on the role of unpaid carer for her son.
That was 24 years ago.
Dorothy is now 94 and Robert is 68.
Dorothy told us: “At home I am still responsible for all the shopping, cleaning, cooking and laundry. I worry about what would happen to Robert if I were to fall ill or hurt myself.”
With no option but to keep on caring, the final stage of Dorothy’s life has been very different from the relaxing retirement she may have imagined for herself.
Before they discovered Leuchie, they hadn’t had a holiday for years because they couldn’t find anywhere that could provide the care Robert needed. This is a familiar story. Carers Scotland’s last State of Caring report revealed that, while most carers feel that having regular breaks is one of the things that would make the biggest difference to them, one in three hadn’t had a break away from home or a weekend away in five years.
Then there are the added pressures that come with being an older carer. The day-to-day challenges faced by almost everyone in a caring position are enormous. When you are frail and elderly, the additional physical and emotional stresses can be utterly exhausting, particularly if you have your own age-related health issues.
Dorothy explained to us the difference her breaks at Leuchie make: “It gives me a rest and some peace. It also helps me carry on by having something to look forward to.” That’s something we hear all the time.
When it feels like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, caring can seem like a relentless struggle. If you know you have a short break coming up, there’s something positive and tangible to keep you going through the toughest times.
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