Written by Samantha Lade, DonateToday

'I feel like I'm needed again': After becoming a full-time carer for her husband of 48 years, Pat is now using 'HenPower' to overcome his passing

'I feel like I'm needed again': After becoming a full-time carer for her husband of 48 years, Pat is now using 'HenPower' to overcome his passing

Written by ##author:samanthalade## for DonateToday

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Towards the end of their 48-year marriage, Pat Cain became a full-time carer for her husband Les, who was battling Parkinson's and dementia. But after his passing, it was the help of some feathered friends who helped Pat to finally feel 'needed again'.

A '24-hour Job'

A couple native to the North East, Pat and Les Cain were happily married for almost 48 years. But towards the end of his life, Les began to battle with several health issues – beginning with a diagnosis of Parkinson's.

Although this was manageable for the first six years, Les soon began to develop diabetes, water infections and began to lose control of his mobility and balance, and things increasingly became more difficult.

'As a carer you sometimes feel trapped, but you just do it because you love the person,' explains Pat. 'It's a 24 hour job. You have to be there. 

'Then my daughter persuaded me to get a bungalow. We moved and he was fine for a bit, but then he was in and out of hospital until the June and then they told me he couldn't come home any more. 

'That is the most dreadful thing anyone can ever tell you,' recalls Pat.

"As a carer you can sometimes feel a bit invisible. You just blend in."

- Pat Cain

Letting Go

It was around then that Les slowly began to develop dementia.

'Sometimes he wouldn't even recognise me,' Pat recalls, speaking of her other half. 'I went at 12pm every day and one day he asked me if they paid me to work there. I felt drained to be truthful, to think he didn't recognise me.'

Not long after, Les sadly passed away.

When Pat returned to the couple's retirement housing at Wood Green in Gateshead, she recounts that it took a lot of getting used to. She had gone from being a carer of many years, to feeling very lonely. 

'When Les passed away people at Wood Green asked ‘Are you new here?’ and of course I'd lived there for three years, but people just didn't know me because I was always at the home.

'As a carer you can sometimes feel a bit invisible,' she explains. 'You just blend in.'

As more time passed, Pat knew that she needed to get involved with her surrounding community to lift herself back up.

New Found Henthusiasm

Soon, Pat began attending 'HenPower' meetings – an innovative project initially rolled out across the North East by local charity Equal Arts. 

Equal Arts are a 'creative ageing' group who support and stimulate older people and those living with dementia in the region. Now, they are using hens to help combat loneliness and reduce depression and promote wellbeing.

But what exactly does this hen-themed scheme consist of?! 

The HenPower project helps those at Wood Green and beyond build social relationships with each other, through teaching them skills about hen-keeping –such as feeding routines and the birthing process.

'I started to come to HenPower meetings and I realised that people were friendly and I responded to that,' says Pat. 'I got drawn in.'

Equal Arts believe 'memory may diminish, but imagination remains'

The residents of Wood Green occasionally take their hens on tour to schools, universities and care homes, to share their knowledge and stimulate residents. 'We go into homes and work with people with dementia, and I can recognise and understand what they are going through and how carers are feeling,' says Pat.

'I know what it's like to have a husband and then for him not to be there even though in reality he's sitting next to you, though he doesn't know you anymore.'

"'I feel like I'm needed again."

- Pat Cain

Hens Going Global

Incredibly, HenPower now run 50+ projects across the UK, and even have projects over in Australia. Those benefitting from the project say the hens are comforting and warm to handle, and that they each have their own personalities.

The method, dubbed 'Hen Therapy', has also been proven to be successful at reducing not only loneliness and depression – but in fact shows a direct link to a reduction in need for antipsychotic medication for those in care homes.

As for Pat? She feels the project has given her a real purpose after her tough loss. 

'I feel like I'm needed again,' she finishes.

With support from Equal Arts, HenPower continue to creatively 'hengage' more and more older people across the UK just like Pat, in a bid to tackle feelings of isolation and depression once and for all.