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83, Oxford

Hubert kept a positive attitude and took breaks when he could during 12 years of caring for his wife Phoebe, who suffered from advancing dementia. They shared their Oxfordshire home until she died.

"It was some years before the true cause of Phoebe’s incipient dementia was diagnosed, by which time it was too late to rectify. At first, only family and close friends noticed any problems, and she was sufficiently compos mentis to operate the vacuum-cleaner or chop up vegetables, for example, while I’d prepare our meals – not that I’m much of a cook! However, after a minor stroke in 2006 her condition deteriorated.

Staying at home

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Our sons and I looked at various care homes but we weren’t impressed; and she loved this house – it had been our family home for many years. She used to glow with pleasure when she returned after a spell in hospital. So we wanted to keep her here if possible – not least because she retained her happy personality and was almost never obstructive or complaining. Even when she no longer knew who I or her own children were, her friendly smile would cheer up the bus driver or the supermarket staff.

I found care workers from agencies very unsatisfactory. They’d only come in for a week or a fortnight, and then I’d have to ‘run in’ a new one. I came across a charity that rescues women who’ve been more or less enslaved by unscrupulous people. It put me in touch with a young woman from South India, and she came as a ‘home help’. She settled down wonderfully; and when she left after three years she found me a replacement who was possibly even better.


Our three children were fantastic, even though all had demanding full-time jobs. They would take it in turns to take her on holiday or have her to stay. They often took her to her old home in County Mayo. It revived her childhood memories and she really enjoyed that.

That was the main break I got each year. I’d use the time to attend meetings or reunions and visit friends. Moreover, I had other ways of escape. Phoebe went to a day centre two or three times a week, and I took those opportunities to do things locally, such as studying in the local Department of Continuing Education. I kept very active in my neighbourhood. My advice to other people in a similar situation is never to allow yourself to wallow in self-pity. Get yourself involved in things which you can do, and keep your life full enough to not have time to get lonely and depressed.

Phoebe was a wonderful person. She used to smile at everybody, and her personality remained extraordinarily intact. She was still good company even in the last couple of years when she didn’t know who I was. She died three years ago on her eightieth birthday, four days before our Golden Wedding. I miss her all the time."

"Phoebe went to a day centre two or three times a week, and I took those opportunities to do things locally."

More information

  • Financing care at home: find out about the different options, including local authority support, self-funding and equity release.
  • Respite holidays: read about taking a break from caring, whether that is a holiday with the person you care for, or a little time apart.
  • Dementia and other memory problems: understand how dementia is diagnosed and advice on caring for someone with dementia.

Page last reviewed: October 2017