Being a carer for two autistic sons and a mother with dementia 'feels like I’m climbing a mountain and can’t see the top’

Cheryl Semple with her son Williams
Cheryl Semple with her son Williams
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For Cheryl Semple, family comes first. But after a year of caring for her two autistic sons, as well as her mum who has Alzheimer’s, it was no surprise she broke down, with anxiety and depression. Now, the mother-of-two from Higher Walton, talks about the struggles many like her face.

Cheryl Semple barely had time to breathe whilst she was working, looking after her two autistic sons and visiting her mum three times a day.
Her mum, Linda Carrara, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around seven years ago, when she was 60. She coped well for a few years, but in the past 18 months, her dementia had really progressed and Cheryl picked up the burden of looking after her, all whilst maintaining a full time job as a secondary school teacher.

Playtime with William

Playtime with William

On a typical day, Cheryl would drop her youngest son off at school and drive over to check on her mum before work - then after a full day in a very challenging job, she’d pick her son up, cook for the kids and take her mum a meal, get the kids to bed before driving back to mum’s to help her wash and change, then stay up late to mark books and plan lessons and get everything ready for the following day.
On top of this, Cheryl was dealing with meltdowns from her seven-year-old son William, who has autism, and aggression from her 17-year-old son, Ewan, who has asperger’s. When it became overwhelming, last May, Cheryl made the difficult decision to find a care home for her mum, which she feels intense guilt about.

Read more: Here is what support is on offer for people with dementia in Lancashire

Cheryl, 45, says: “Mum lived at home on her own until last May, when we decided to put her into a care home. Over time, the amount of care I needed to give progressed. In the 12 months leading up to her moving, I was going to her house three or four times a day. From the morning, I had structured time with William, dropped him off at school breakfast club, then go to my mum’s in Bamber Bridge, get her dressed, then drive to Nelson, where I worked.

“Once I finished work, I had to pick William up and make the boys tea. Then I would go to my mum’s and make tea, before going back home to get William to bed and then back to mum’s to get her into bed.
“My husband, Jamie, is amazing, but he works away a lot.

Cheryl Semple with her son William

Cheryl Semple with her son William

“I would return home exhausted, crying, and struggle to sleep due to the stress. I would be woken in the night if mum pressed the panic button and have to drive over to check on her, clean her up, calm her down and put her back to bed.
“Whilst at work I was always waiting for phone calls from William’s school about his meltdowns or calls from Charnley Fold Day Centre about my mum.
“I am lucky my eldest son is high functioning and he is self maintained. I feel he takes a back seat at times.”

Cheryl’s career suffered as she struggled to juggle it all. Months would go by without her managing a full week at work and she stopped being paid for time off, adding financial worries to all her other stresses.
Things came to a head last August, when, after Linda had a spell in hospital, Cheryl went on long term sick leave for anxiety and depression.

Cheryl continues: “Everything came crashing down when my mum went into hospital in the summer. I could not cope anymore.
“There’s constant guilt about letting people down, and resentment about losing the career I worked so hard on, but it’s impossible to give everyone the time and support they need when you’re trying to do it all at once. It feels like I’m climbing a mountain and can’t see the top, I’m just trying to keep going, surviving.

“It was a shame as I loved my job and I have worked so hard to get to the position I have. I feel like I have lost it all because of caring for everyone else, but family comes first. There is only so much you can give.
“My brother lives in Yorkshire, my other sister is a teacher and lives in Poulton and my younger sister is a single parent working part time. As I am the eldest child, it all falls to me.
“I can’t imagine being able to return to work, but worrying about mum’s care fees, as well as my own bills is weighing on my mind.“

Cheryl Semple

Cheryl Semple

Linda’s house will be used to pay for her care at Gillibrand Hall, in Chorley, but the family also has to pay top-up fees of £240 per month.

Cheryl adds: “I don’t want to sound resentful of the situation I find myself in because I would do it all again - I have developed such a close bond with mum and love her dearly - but the government has to see how many people are in this situation and make sure there is practical, emotional and financial support for everyone who needs it.”

Cheryl adds she has been extremely well supported by Age Concern UK and Alzheimer’s Society who gave her plenty of advice and signposted her to places for extra help.
She says: “If it was not for Age Concern, Charnley Fold and Alzheimer’s Society, I would not know which way to turn.
“It was Age Concern at Charnley Fold who informed me my mum was deteriorating and they contacted Alzheimer’s Society, who sent me a dementia buddy to discuss support available.
“They gave me contact details for Lancashire County Council to apply for Independent Living Allowance to get carers from Red Rose Care in. They started coming in October 2017 and were there until she went to Gillibrand Hall the following May. They were amazing and came in two to three times a day, which meant I didn’t need to go as often. When mum was not coping and began wandering and becoming anxious, I rang the Alzheimer’s Society dementia helpline which gave us advice. They helped us keep control.”

Cheryl Semple and William

Cheryl Semple and William