Some 200,000 people care for loved-ones in Ireland. Among them is Jack Brennan, an 84-year-old who cares for his beloved wife, Bernie. She has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot even perform the most basic tasks.
In a Prime Time programme broadcast last night on RTÉ, Miriam O’Callaghan visited Jack in his home in Frenchpark, Co Roscommon, which their family describe as “Jack’s clinic”.
He receives 2.5 hours a day home care for Bernie to get her up, washed, dressed, fed, and back to bed at night.
Carers tend to their loved-ones for almost the equivalent of a full 40-hour working week and for many it is a mission impossible. Almost 9% provide full-time, 24-hour unpaid care, with no real respite from what can be backbreaking work.
One of the hardest tasks is to care for a disabled child for decades. Jacinta Walsh, from Drogheda, who is 51, takes care of her 18-year-old son, Sam O’Carroll.
Sam has autism and is learning disabled and has a number of health conditions, including type 1 diabetes.
Sam’s behaviour is unpredictable and can be extremely violent, and Jacinta has been seriously assaulted by him.
He has attended a day centre since September, having left school in June. Since Sam turned 18, in July, there is no respite care available for him or his family.
Jacinta tells Miriam: “I can’t tell you the difference it makes having respite. If you know you are getting a break in two or three weeks’ time, you can carry on in between, but if there is no break on the horizon — that’s where we are now; there is nothing — that’s really, really hard.”
Carers worry that they themselves will become ill, leaving no-one to take care of their loved-one.
That is a concern for Teresa Kinsella, from Castleknock, in Dublin. She is over 80 and takes care of her daughter, Fiona, who has an intellectual disability and is 54.
Teresa has now been diagnosed with the onset of dementia and she feels she can no longer take care of Fiona. Her own doctors have warned of serious safety concerns.
Some carers say their only hope is that the person they care for dies before them.
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