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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 00:06 GMT
Caring for the carers
Jimmie James
Jimmie James is offering advice to other carers
Jimmie James' life was turned upside down two years ago when his wife Rose had a stroke.

After 54 years of marriage to someone he could do everything with, he found himself at home with someone he had to do everything for.

On Carers' Rights Day, carers charities are appealing for more recognition and support for a nation of unsung heroes.

"It was quite a shock," the 85-year-old said. "Rose had been in the hospital for several months getting all the help she needed.

"When she left hospital, we were on our own for eight weeks before anyone came to help us."

I became a pharmacist and doctor, giving her medication and checking her blood pressure
Jimmie James
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Mrs James couldn't bathe, get up or walk unaided. She was also, her husband said, "somewhat confused".

"I couldn't help her sit up in bed to put pillows behind her. I searched the web and discovered there were beds available which could do it for me.

"It cost 1,000 but I had to afford it.

"I couldn't bathe her. Even when we got some help from social services, she couldn't have a bath because they won't lift someone in case they hurt their backs. So I got a walk-in bath.

"I gradually learned how to deal with the steps up to our bungalow but we needed our daughter's help every time to support either side.

"I became a pharmacist and doctor, giving her medication and checking her blood pressure.

"I wasn't given any advice on how to deal with these problems and the same thing happens to people all over the country."

'Health suffers'

Emily Holzhausen, of Carers UK, says the former aviation engineer's experience is typical.

"There are two ways people become carers - there's that late-night call to say a son's been in a car accident or a wife's had a stroke and it's a total shock. Or it creeps up and one day the carer wonders how they got there.

"Time and time again we hear from carers it's difficult to get information and they get shunted from pillar to post.

"It's so important that they get advice and support straight away.

"Carers who provide round-the-clock care are twice as likely to suffer ill health -and twice as likely to suffer from poor mental health - as soon as they start caring, as non-carers are."

Helping others

Mr James is convinced he can do a better job of looking after his 87-year-old wife than anyone else. Mrs James is able to do more for herself now and he takes her out for a drive every day.

He would dearly like a break but his local authority could not offer care for Mrs James in their Sheffield home which they would prefer.

He thought about paying for it himself but at 20 an hour it was beyond his pension.

Now he is hoping to use his experience to help others in a similar position by giving advice on the BBC's community website iCan.

"I've learned how to cope but it's taken 18 months. I know how to fill in forms. I've been through it all and now it gives me a lift to help others."

Carers UK has produced a Carers' Rights Guide to help people find out the help available to them. It is available from 020 8880 8125 or by clicking on the link in the middle of this story.


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