Wearside Matters: What a difference a year makes for Sunderland dementia carer

Carer Locality Lead (Coalfieds), Debbie Ainscow, left, with Karen Foster.
Carer Locality Lead (Coalfieds), Debbie Ainscow, left, with Karen Foster.

The life of a Sunderland carer has been transformed thanks to the help of Sunderland Carers Centre and its dementia support service.

For Karen Foster, 51 – who has cared for husband, Clifford, since his dementia diagnosis – the Essence Service and the help from Sunderland Carers Centre has changed her life.

Karen said: “It’s been about a year since I started going to the Carers Centre for support, and sometimes I struggle to believe the difference a year can make, both in terms of my wellbeing and my approach to caring.

“When my husband, Cliff, was diagnosed with dementia I unquestioningly took on a caring role. I found that when you start to care for a loved one, everyone around you asks how they are and they rarely stop to ask how you are.

“I started to put on a brave face, but sadly, I lost track of my own state of wellbeing.

“I completed a Carers Assessment when I came to the centre, and I think that was the first time I truly realised how much I was struggling to cope.

“A year on, I have just worked through my second review with Debbie and I can’t believe the total transformation in myself.”

Karen has worked with Debbie Ainscow, Carer Locality Lead (Coalfieds), since going to the Carers Centre for support.

Karen said: “I have really benefitted from the one-on-one support that has been provided.

“Debbie has been there for me every step of the way, I have learnt so much over the past year.

“The help I’ve received has meant that I can better care for myself, as well as Cliff.

“It’s wonderful to have people outside your circle of family and friends to speak to, as they offer impartial support, without judgement.

“I know that, through the Essence Service, I can pick up the phone and have someone to talk to whenever I need that extra support.”

Sunderland Carers Centre works in partnership with Age UK, The Alzheimer’s Society and many other partners across Sunderland to provide the Essence Service.

The free service, which is making a difference to over 1,000 people across the city, offers practical support to those living with dementia and those who care for them.

Karen encourages other carers to use the services and support available at Sunderland Carers Centre, and is a keen advocate of the Essence Service.

“The Essence Service has meant that I feel supported by people who understand what I’m going through,” said Karen.

“I had to reach a complete low for me to realise it was time to seek help, and I’m so thankful that I did.

“I want carers to realise ‘I do exist’ before they reach that low.”

Karen added: “It’s about having the confidence to come forward, and I want people to know that the services and support is here waiting for them.

“There’s no shame in asking for help, there’s no judgement and there’s no stigma – you’re simply getting the support that you need.”

Graham Burt, chief executive of Sunderland Carers Centre, said: “There is a raft of support available to help people who take on a caring role, and we hope that these sessions continue to show people that help is on offer.

“The Essence Service is a fantastic support for people in Sunderland who have recently been diagnosed with dementia, as well as those who care for them.

“We wanted to create a service that is welcoming and accessible, and we’re delighted to know that people like Karen are benefiting from the experience.”

Sunderland Carers Centre provides a listening ear and a range of advice and support to carers from across the city.

To find out more about Sunderland Carers Centre, visit www.sunderlandcarers.co.uk, call 0191 549 3768 or pop in to the centre on Thompson Road.

Or for more information about the Essence Service, visit http://www.ageuk.org.uk/sunderland/our-services/essence-service/ or call 0191 522 1310.