Being older makes it easier – I can reminisce about the past and know the recipes clients loved making themselves
My family think I’m the tiniest bit mad. I’ve just turned 73 and I’m doing care work six days a week. The thing is, I really love my job.
I haven’t always been a care worker; I only started the year I turned 70. I was working for an antique dealer, and when my hours were reduced to three days a week, I wanted a new job to fill the other two days. A friend suggested I approach care provider Home Instead. I was doubtful; my perception of care work was based on media reports about poor care, abuse and 15-minute visits. But I did pick up the phone and two days a week swiftly turned into a full-time position.
Initially I was planning only to do companionship work, helping with cooking, cleaning and taking people out and about. I wasn’t sure I could manage the personal care side of the role, helping people to wash and so on, but one couple changed this for me. I felt guilty that their other care worker was doing all of the personal care tasks and, having built caring relationships with my clients, I didn’t find the idea of supporting them in this way as difficult as I once had.
I decided to take the training, and never looked back. Now my week is a mixture of companionship and personal care appointments and I enjoy it all. I feel privileged to be so trusted by my clients, to help them when they’re at their most vulnerable.
In an average week I’ll visit six clients multiple times. Some pay for care themselves, while others receive direct payments from the council towards the cost. Our visits are always an hour or more, but the time I spend with each person varies, so there isn’t an average day.
I started off doing fewer hours than I do now, but I’ve always enjoyed working and being busy, so I’ve added more and more in as time has gone on. Over my six days I usually work between 30 and 40 hours, although it can change depending on my clients’ needs.
There’s rarely a dull moment working in care. I was still new to the job when one of my clients disappeared. I arrived at his home to find his wife concerned because he’d gone shopping and not come back. I decided the best thing was to go and look for him – in a small town like ours, there were only a few places he could be. Eventually I tracked him down to the bank, sitting in the manager’s office. With the help of the staff we were able to get him safely home.
I’ve paid visits to imaginary horses, hunted down missing kettles and was once told by a client that Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was moving into the flat upstairs. I’ve heard the most moving and inspiring stories about wartime work, and been a friendly ear when clients have needed someone to listen.
I’ve often been asked how I manage with the work at my age, but actually, being older makes it easier. I have lots of things in common with the people I look after: I know the recipes they used to love making themselves, I know how to help them look after their gardens, and I can reminisce about the past with them.
I do wonder when I’ll start to take things easier. Maybe 75 will be the time, but then I’ve set deadlines before and ignored them as they passed. When I think about cutting down my hours I also think about what that will mean for my clients. I might have to stop seeing some of them, and I wouldn’t want to do that.
One of my lovely clients once said to me, “You won’t leave, will you?”. I know one day I’ll have to answer “yes I will”, but I hope that day is a little way off yet.