Mary works as a Social Prescriber for Brighton-based loneliness charity Together Co. When she first began working with Judy and Bert, she could tell that Judy was exhausted. Then Judy mentioned that someone had recommended Dementia Adventure to her. After looking our holidays up together, Mary’s first thought was, “This would be amazing.”
“Social prescribing is a non-clinical, non-medical role,” Mary explains. “It’s about providing that safe space for people to think about what they need, what the barriers might be, and then working towards achieving it by co-producing a plan. It’s very much about listening to that person and finding out what’s important to them and what it is that they need at this particular time.”
Bert and Judy’s case was an unusually complex one. Bert lives with Alzheimer’s, and the couple had found the social isolation of COVID extremely difficult.
“They hadn’t had the usual support that they would have and the usual social interaction. They’re both sociable people. There wasn’t any respite, there wasn’t the usual care support.”
In fact, Judy was finding her role as a carer so strenuous that she and her family decided that Bert would need to go into nursing care – but quickly found that this wasn’t a solution for them. For Mary, flexibility is key in these situations.
“It just wasn’t working. Judy felt really unhappy about the care, and Bert wasn’t doing well. He wasn’t thriving.”
So Bert moved back home.
“It became very much about supporting Judy to really think about the practicalities of Bert coming home, preparing for that, liaising with her social worker, ensuring that communication was quite tight.
“When I first started seeing Judy, her goals were very much around Bert, but she was exhausted. She also really struggled to see herself as a carer. So, that was also another step to support her through. ‘You know, actually you’re providing this number of hours of care. That means that actually, you are a carer.’ Helping her to recognise that it was important to get the support that she’s entitled to was another major piece of the work.”
As Bert’s move back home progressed, Mary began to help Judy to think about care packages and respite. But the couple found the idea of time apart stressful. When Mary asked them to think about what they would find helpful, Judy said,
“Well, it’s coming up to Bert’s 90th birthday. Do you know, it would be amazing if we could go away because we always used to do that, but we’ve been told by medical professionals in the past that it can’t be part of our life anymore.”
Then someone recommended Dementia Adventure.
“Because it had all that support element, it seemed like a realistic goal.”
Mary applied for grants from Brighton District Nursing Association and St Bernard’s Charity on Bert and Judy’s behalf. When they still found themselves struggling with the cost, Dementia Adventure were able to give them help from the Dementia Adventure Support Fund.
“It suddenly seemed viable. It was the first time Judy actually got excited.”
So Bert and Judy booked onto a Dementia Adventure holiday to the Isle of Wight.
“There was an importance to them being together without the day-to-day pressures of life and of caring. To have that freedom to go off like other couples can do. It was something about them getting away from their daily life, but sharing the normality of what other couples have. It had a major impact on Judy, to have something to look forward to. ‘Even the ice-creams, Mary,’ she’d say, ‘They’re going to be all sorted out as part of this.’ She felt that it was really supportive.”
While Bert and Judy were away, Mary regularly checked the weather on the Isle of Wight on her phone. And when they got back, she could immediately see the difference in them. Judy had more energy,
“The first thing Judy said to me when I spoke to her after she’d got back was, ‘We danced together. Mary, I got to be a wife again.’ Bert had flourished. He physically relaxed after a day, and she said, ‘You could really see the real Bert in there.’ It had a massive impact on them both.”
Mary points out that a social prescriber’s approach needs to be holistic; there were many steps involved in helping Judy learn to cope with caring for Bert, and many organisations contributed to bettering their state of affairs. But Mary says that the peer support that Judy experienced while away helped her to understand her and Bert’s situation in relation to others facing similar challenges.
“Having that benchmarking in a holiday situation was really helpful,” Mary said. “I think that was particularly beneficial. I think maybe Judy became more assertive, actually, in terms of, ‘Yes, I do need support. If this is going to work, I need support,’ because she had felt the benefits of that support. I think that’s probably stayed with her.”
“The benefits of a break like this really, really stand out. The impact of this on this couple was immense. So, respite is about separation and works for some people, but for people that want to have a holiday together and it’s out of the question unless they have this support, a Dementia Adventure holiday is really amazing.”