After a long and arduous lockdown, we took couple Barbara and Sue, and their beautiful collie – Molly, for their first supported holiday in Norfolk.
Sue 65, who lives with Alzheimers, first showed symptoms of dementia as young as 54, but wasn’t diagnosed until she was 58. Barbara, her wife, cares for her at home.
Prior to diagnosis, Barbara and Sue travelled extensively, sometimes for months at a time. They’ve travelled all over the world, from Eastern Europe to New Zealand and even Antarctica. Unfortunately, as Sue’s condition progressed, travel became difficult.
Lockdown was extremely tough on both of them. The inability to connect to other people or get to usual support groups and activities put a lot of pressure on them both. It was especially difficult for Barbara, who was completely exhausted. For the first time, she took a week’s respite in Sept 2020, and again April 2021, but found the breaks hard because she missed being with Sue and sharing the holiday together. Something that they felt was no longer an option for them.
Barbara and Sue first came across Dementia Adventure when they attended a talk at a Young Persons With Dementia group. They were still travelling together without help, and didn’t think the supported holidays applied to them, so they tucked the leaflet they received away. But when Barbara found the leaflet again earlier this year, she thought, ‘maybe this is exactly what we need’ and called us.
They eventually booked onto a supported holiday in North Norfolk, near Holkham. Home of big skies, wide sandy beaches and beautiful English countryside.
Naturally, before the holiday, Barbara had a few concerns about how Sue would cope, being somewhere new, and with interruptions to their usual routines. Barbara found the support she got from our team really helped, as she could ask questions about managing medication, toileting, energy levels – and whether they could bring their much loved dog Molly.
“Sue is very attached to Molly, and I didn’t know how she would cope without her. So we were delighted when we discovered we could bring her too. I found the entire planning process very empowering. The communication was really consistent. I felt able to be part of the planning for the week and I could ask questions about anything and everything – there was always a solution. For example, Sue also needs personal care support in the mornings, and Dementia Adventure was able to arrange for our usual care agency to support us while on holiday too. Everything was just so well planned.”
The couple stayed at Brazenhall Lodge, and were supported by Jill and Tessa from Dementia Adventure. They enjoyed days out at the beach, at Holkham Hall, and at a beautiful nature reserve.
“Everything was wonderful – the accommodation, the food, the team who were supporting us. I really felt I could relax. I went from doing everything, to doing very little. Someone else took responsibility for decision making, and time-keeping, cooking and driving. It meant I could just enjoy my time with Sue, and be in the moment, with the freedom not to worry. I was able to do some photography, which I love, but can’t do when I’m out with Sue on my own. It was lovely to know Sue was being cared for, so I could wander with my camera.
Sue’s mood was lighter than it had been,she was smiling and talking more. We had so much fun, and were laughing constantly, which created a lovely atmosphere. We’re definitely closer as a couple because we were able to enjoy our time together.”
Discovering what’s possible
A particular highlight for the couple was the new perspective they gained in Sue’s physical ability. Typically Sue uses a wheelchair and only walks very short distances, but a day out to the beach gave the couple the confidence to see what was really possible.
“There was an incredible moment on the holiday where we wanted to get access to the Beach at Wells-next-to-Sea. The terrain made pushing the wheelchair impossible, and then we discovered a lot of steps. Sue got out of her chair ‘no problem’ and walked up 30-40 steps and then down another 20 on the other side. I think we were both amazed that she’d done it. She smiled the whole time and then walked a further mile! Sue was extremely proud of herself. This was the confidence boost we both needed. Now we feel we can go for longer walks back at home, and not feel anxious about what might happen.”
Since the Holiday
Since being home, and with renewed confidence to get outside, Barbara and Sue have been going on longer walks together.
“I feel refreshed by the holiday. It’s given me a different perspective.”
They were grateful to learn about other types of mobility support for Sue, too. Having discovered all-terrain wheelchairs while they were away, they are looking at getting one for home.
“So we can walk Molly by the river near our house.”
When asked what advice Barbara has for people wondering if a supported holiday is for them, she says,
“Don’t be worried! Talk to Dementia Adventure about everything. They’ve probably heard it all before, and will likely have the answers you need. They couldn’t have been more supportive and accommodating. Don’t think ‘how will I manage’, because you don’t have to – that’s what they are there for. Don’t let obstacles hold you back.”