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Health & Fitness West London woman didn't see friends at weekends for four years while she cared for her grandmother with dementia

23:10  05 december  2022
23:10  05 december  2022 Source:   msn.com

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A West London woman didn't see friends on the weekend for four years while she cared for her grandmother who has vascular dementia. Shree Mehta, 26, juggled being the full-time live-in carer for her grandma, Sharda, alongside full time work in tax and accountancy for five years until May this year, when Sharda moved into a care home.

Shree could get her uncle to come over to care for Sharda while she took a break, but she was so exhausted she would use the time off to go for a long walk "rather than trying to have fun". Holding down a job, trying to maintain a relationship and friendships, while full-time caring took an emotional toll on Shree.

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"That was the hardest bit," she told MyLondon. "You didn't have the energy to do it all." Now Shree is calling for more recognition for carers like her who give their lives to care for family members.

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Sharda with a white board telling her the plan for the day © Shree Mehta Sharda with a white board telling her the plan for the day

Shree moved in with Sharda in Northwood when she was 20 years old. She was taking a year off after university, and it was during that year that Sharda, when she was 82, was diagnosed with vascular dementia, which is caused by lost supply of blood to the brain.

Shree had begun to notice Sharda was losing her memory, and one day she was walking home from the post office when she saw the fire brigade outside the house. Sharda had put something in the oven, forgotten about it, and it had set on fire.

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Shree's role as her grandmother's carer developed over time. At first as she was living with Sharda, she wanted to help out. But as the dementia progressed, Shree also did more and more for Sharda. Over the five years Shree cared for Sharda, she dealt with a mix of good and bad days.

She explained: "Whilst we did our best to foster the good days and thrive in our best moments, there were also days that were characterised by increased verbal repetition, anger, irritability, forgetfulness, delusions and a declining mood. Each day she would face a new challenge: one day she would be having strong hallucinations, the next she would have incontinence troubles, the next she couldn't walk, then next she'd be aggressively hurting herself. And then within minutes she would forget it all happened."

Shree had to keep doctors appointments, records, and pharmacy calls, ensure the bills were paid, manage Sharda tempers, but also give her time through hugs and being present, as well as cleaning, making sure Sharda was showered and dressed, and getting up in the middle of the night when Sharda woke up confused. "All in all, being a carer was heart-breaking, worrying, incredible and eye-opening," said Shree.

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Thanks to the pandemic, Shree worked from home for three years so was able to be around Sharda during the day. But the years of caring took an emotional toll on Shree. She didn't get enough rest and she lost out on things in life like seeing friends.

Early on, she was able to leave Sharda to see friends in the evenings, but by the second year she didn't feel safe doing so, even with a Ring camera in Sharda's bedroom so that Shree could reassure her if she woke up. Shree said: "Despite how beautiful and rewarding the time caring for my grandmother was, it was at times an uphill battle. It became more challenging as the years went by, and in turn the physical and mental strain was taking a toll on both of us."

Eventually, it reached the point where Sharda needed round the clock care, and Shree wasn't able to provide that for her. "It was in her dementia's best interest for the move to the home," she said. Shree says it was very difficult letting go after spending so long with her grandmother.

Although initially Shree spent every day at the care home to the point it was 7pm and the carers were telling her to leave, she now feels peace knowing her grandmother is getting the care she needs from trained professionals. Shree now lives in Willesden and visits Sharda a couple times a week. Her experience as a carer has led her to believe carers are "forgotten by the system".

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She said: "Carers are silent key workers and I do not believe that there is enough recognition for the work that they do. Carers feel profound effects that their role has on their lives - spending hours on end caring, only to then use their free time to recover from exhaustion, in turn forfeiting their social time and other things that bring them happiness.

"Carers are largely hidden despite their constant work, love, strength and devotion to those they support. I feel like carers are often forgotten by the system, yet are required to save the country billions of pounds.” In London alone, the families and friends of people living with dementia are estimated to provide care worth more than £1.2 billion, according to Alzheimer's Society.

In a statement, Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Sir Tony Robinson said: "We were disappointed that Government has delayed the proposed £86K care cap for two years as this was a first step towards tackling crippling care costs. We recognise the political upheaval of recent months has caused delays, not least in the delivery of the new 10-year plan for dementia in England, but further delays must be avoided."

Sir Tony acknowledged the "encouraging" news that social care will receive £1bn in additional funding next year and £1.7bn the year after, but added: "With pressures on all carers being intensified by the record 165,000 vacancies in social care across the UK – including 28,000 in London – the system is in urgent need of reform." Sir Tony is urging people to sign Alzheimer’s Society’s open letter to the Prime Minister asking the Government to prioritise dementia.

Do you have a story you think we should be covering? Get in touch at seren.hughes@reachplc.com

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