For nearly forty years Emily Paterson was a volunteer at the West Wallsend High School canteen a dedication that resulted in her receiving a medal from the New South Wales Department of Education.
But it was while working at the canteen that the first signs of the onset of dementia became apparent forcing her to give up a job she obviously adored.
The arrival of dementia not only meant she could no longer volunteer at the canteen but she also had to sell her home and move to live with her daughter Alice Pegler and her late husband Colin at their home in Singleton.
That was five and half years ago and today Mrs Paterson despite living in Singleton all that time still thinks she can go back to her home in Newcastle and live on her own.
To prevent her returning to Newcastle to a non-existent house Mrs Pegler has been forced to turn her home into a secure unit with many padlocks on the doors.
“When people phone me I feel like answering with the words Singleton lock-up that’s how bad I feel about the padlocks but they are an absolute necessity because Mum would simply wander off, said Mrs Pegler.
The 87 year old has early stage dementia and before she moved in with her daughter she would forget to eat and was suffering malnutrition despite the fact Mrs Pegler travelled to Newcastle twice a week with cooked meals for her mother.
“Each time I came down I would have to throw out the meals I had brought down early I the week because Mum had eaten nothing – she told me she was eating but the evidence proved otherwise “she said.
Nowdays Mrs Paterson is in robust health with only some arthritis and glaucoma afflicting her and her medication only three pills each day whereas Mrs Pegler has to take 9 pills each day.
Mrs Paterson may not understand much about her days or her surroundings but according to her daughter she is one determined lady and knows exactly what she wants and when she wants it.
“She is one very determined lady and she lets you know in no uncertain terms of her views, “she said.
Mrs Pegler finds the task of caring for her mother tiring and difficult but her great sense of humour and desire to look after her mother for as long as possible sustains her.
Mrs Paterson also attends respite care fives days each week at Cooinda Hostel and this is true live saver for Mrs Pegler who admits the weekends are always the hardest.
She described her life as being on a back burner at present but said she would know when it was time to move her mother into full-time care.
One has to admire people like Mrs Pegler who take on the task of caring for their frail parents.
In Mrs Pegler’s case while caring for her mother she has battled and survived breast cancer and cared for her husband during his illness which led to his death 18 months ago.
Laughing in retelling some of the funny things she has had to deal with while caring for her mother she becomes teary when recalling her promise to her late father to take care of her mother.
“I know I have done my best for Mum and for that reason when it comes to placing Mum in a nursing home it will be sad but it won’t be an impossible decision, “she said.
“These days I can get a break as Mum loves to watch Walt Disney movies and I have a few DVD’s such as Cinderella, Benji and Garfield – she can watch the movie over and over again.”
More and more children will be looking after their parent in the coming years as life expectancy rates rise.
In 1970 average life expectancy of a 60 year man was 75 but that figure is expected to reach 90 plus years by 2050.
The role reversal of the carer becoming the cared will become more and more common especially as many of today’s baby boomers want stay in their own homes longer and in particular not enter nursing homes.
Governments are become aware of the costs involved in aged care with policies around the world designed to cover the costs of the aging population.
In Australia the federal Government recently announced changes to nursing home costs and in-home care in its “Living Longer Living Better” package.
The use of respite care is also vital to carer Karen Horn who incredibly cares for her mother-in-law Marion Horn.
Mrs Horn carers role has been in place for most of the 25 years of her married life as her in-laws were forced to leave their coastal retirement home 23 years ago and move into a granny flat behind Karen and their son’s Terry home in Singleton.
At the time Len Horn was suffering from heart problems and they could no longer enjoy their coastal lifestyle.
When Len passed away eight years ago Mrs Horn senior’s health declined rapidly with the onset of the horrible dementia.
Attending respite care three days a week allows Mrs Horn to carry out her household chores.
To get out of the house and have some time to herself Mrs Horn works 16 hours each week at night at the local Big W.
To make life easy for her mother-in-law Mrs Horn said they keep changes in their home to an absolute minimum.
In fact despite renovating their kitchen a number of years ago they do all their cooking in the granny flat because its eases Mrs Horn seniors stress.
Days not in respite are spent very slowly as nothing much amuses 88 years old these days – ripping up old magazines passes sometime of the day.
Mrs Horn was recognised for her outstanding caring role in 2010 winning a Carer of the Year award in Singleton but she is quick to thank the support of her family in particular her daughters Gabrielle and Taylah.
Mrs Horn also said her sister Linda Harrison had also been a great support staying overnight if needed to care for Mrs Horn.
More and more families will need to pull together in the future to solve caring issues and speaking to families like the Horns and Peglers on how they work life out on a daily basis could be a start.