'I feel like I'm needed again': How elderly woman, who'd become a full-time carer for her husband with Parkinson's, is using 'HenPower' to overcome his death

  • Pat Cain became a round-the-clock carer to her husband of 48 years, Les, who had Parkinson's 
  • Les' health began to deteriorate further as he developed diabetes and dementia – and he eventually passed away
  • To overcome her loss, Pat began attending 'HenPower' meetings at her care home which allowed her to feel 'needed again'
  • Introduced by 'creative ageing' charity Equal Arts, the project uses hens to combat loneliness and depression

Written by Samantha Lade for DonateToday

PUBLISHED: 11:38, 22nd Sep 2017 | UPDATED: 17:31, 27th Sep 2017

A '24-hour Job'

Pat became a full-time carer of her husband of over 40 years, who had Parkinson's, diabetes, and eventually dementia

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 dementia.

Although this seemed manageable for the first six years, when Les began to develop diabetes, water infections and began to lose control of his mobility and balance, Pat began to realise the seriousness of Les' problems.

'As a carer you sometimes feel trapped, but you just do it because you love the person,' explains Pat, speaking to the Equal Arts website. '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.'

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

- Pat Cain

Letting Go

Not long after, the worst happened – as 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.'

When returning to Les' late care home – Wood Green in Gateshead – to become a resident herself after her husband's passing, Pat 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. You just blend in.'

The more time spent at the care home, the more Pat knew she needed to get involved with her surrounding community to lift herself back up.

HenPower unites older people with hen-keeping to combat loneliness & depression, and improve wellbeing.
The project aims to empower older people, by providing meaningful and creative activities which are aspirational

A New Source of Hope

Pat soon found out about 'HenPower' meetings: an innovative project distributed across the North East by local charity Equal Arts. The charity – a 'creative ageing' group who support and stimulate older populations and those living with dementia in the region – aim to eradicate loneliness and depression, and promote health and wellbeing.

The HenPower project helps individuals at the care home 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. 'Then I got more drawn in.'

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

'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.'

The recent method, dubbed 'Hen Therapy', has been proven to be successful at reducing not only loneliness and depression, but also 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 tragic loss. 

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

Please note that names may have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. Images are used for illustrative purposes only and, unless specified, persons included in images are posed models, not the persons mentioned in the article.