An inspirational Foxford woman who has spent 19 years providing full-time care to her husband has called for more recognition and support of the work of Ireland’s many tens of thousands of carers.
Eleanor Ryder was named Irish Red Cross Carer of the Year in Dublin’s Mansion House last Friday.
Her husband Seamus acquired a brain injury in 1995, which has resulted in him suffering regular seizures and experiencing difficulties in areas such as memory loss, understanding, and communication.
The modest mother-of-two told the Mayo Advertiser this week that while she was bowled over by the award, she “didn’t know what all the fuss was about”.
“There are loads of carers out there, just like me, who are not getting this recognition and they are very important too,” she said.
“The Government should help us - them and me - and everyone who works as a carer.”
In Mayo alone, carers give more than 161,000 hours of upaid care to the county’s sick, elderly, and vulnerable each week, according to the Irish Red Cross. Half of those provide care work of between 15 and 43 hours a week.
Mrs Ryder has not had a day off for almost two decades and invests all of her energy and time into caring for her husband.
It is estimated that it would cost the State €1,500 each week to provide the equivalent level of care to Mr Ryder.
Mrs Ryder said taking a €400 cut to the family’s respite grant in a recent budgetary measure was difficult.
“I was raging,” she said. “I missed it so much last year. It wouldn’t be a huge amount of money to the Government, but it was a lot to us.”
Mrs Ryder said that while “everyone has their own story”, she wanted to highlight her personal experience of being a full-time carer because she “would have given anything to read about someone going through something like this in the early days”.
The couple, who grew up across the river from one another in Foxford, met and fell in love at a dance 41 years ago and are still incredibly close despite all of the hardship they have endured.
“Possibly that is what has kept as going,” said Mrs Ryder, and she said she was grateful for everything she had.
However, the early days were among the darkest.
“When it happened first I went down to six stone,” she said. “I was scared to death because I had no medical experience and I hadn’t a clue what I should be doing.”
Mrs Ryder, who regularly sleeps on the floor beside her husband when he is in hospital in case he gets a seizure at night, said her family, “amazing” medical and ambulance personnel, and the “best neighbours in the world” helped her and Mr Ryder get through.
She said carers should get much more support for the work they do, particularly in the form of regular home visits from health care professionals and therapists to learn how to cope with the situation, as this would have made a world of difference to their lives in the initial years after Mr Ryder’s illness.