Husband, 93, opens up on 'crippling' emotional and financial burden of wife's dementia struggle

  • Watch Rebecca Haworth's report for ITV News Anglia about Clifford Smith's struggle with dementia care for his wife

A devoted husband has spoken of the crippling emotional and financial burden of caring for his wife who has dementia.

Clifford Smith, 93, has been spending £65,000 a year to keep June, his wife of 70 years, in a care home where she can get the best care for her vascular dementia.

Now he is calling for dementia to be treated like a physical illness, which would entitle the family to more financial help.

An emotional Mr Smith said: "I don't think anybody except someone who has lost a partner of 70 years could understand."

Mr Smith, who was the first chief executive of Suffolk County Council, has already had to downsize twice to fund his wife's care.

His life savings are being rapidly eroded and he finds it hard to sleep at night worrying about his situation.

He described the "demeaning, disgraceful" situation they had been left in: "Something like five times a week, sitting beside her, with no conversation".

"[It's] a horrendous attack on myself mentally because of the inability to do anything, and the inability now to do anything for my family because of the enormous costs."

Mr Smith and his wife on their wedding day in 1953 Credit: Family picture

The couple, who have been married for 70 years, met in the Grimsby town planning office at the time of King George VI's death, and married in the same year the late Queen was crowned.

They led a happy life together, often meeting royalty in the course of Mr Smith's high-flying role in local government.

Mr Smith said his 90-year-old wife's dementia diagnosis a decade ago had been a terrible blow.

He first noticed a change in her a couple of years before that when the family began to tease her about her memory.

Mr Smith and his wife June meeting Princess Diana Credit: Family picture

He took her to the GP for a check up and the diagnosis followed.

Initially Mr Smith managed to look after his wife at home, but when things got too difficult he moved her to a care home in Ipswich.

"We tried respite care with June but it became apparent that I couldn't survive any longer at my age trying to look after her, in spite of carers coming in and family help.

"Everybody has been brilliant: family, care home, GP, hospital, except this wretched situation where dementia is not treated as an illness. It's unbelievable."

Mr Smith said his wife had declined in the past two years.

He said: "When she arrived at the care home in Ipswich a couple of years ago they came and said to us she was the nicest person they ever had."

Mr and Mrs Smith were enjoying a happy retirement before her dementia diagnosis Credit: Family picture

Mr Smith visits her as much as he can but finds it tough and said Mrs Smith struggles to recognise him.

He said: "Only just, we've gone through a long period of her decline, but she gets as far as looking at me and saying 'oh it's you'. That's the lot now."

Mr Smith is not entitled to any help from the state for his wife's dementia care, as he has more than £23,250 in savings.

He was born the son of an engine driver in Grimsby, and after passing the 11-plus, worked his way up in world of local government by studying for his examinations while he was at work.

Under current rules, if people have more than £23,250 worth of savings then they are not eligible for any financial help from their local council, and have to fund the complete cost of care on their own.

That is due to change in October 2025 when the ceiling will be £100,000 worth of savings.

But Mr Smith feels two years is a long time to wait for someone in his situation, and he would be unable to afford any care for himself should he need it.

He said: "I'm utterly helpless, I cannot book myself into any form of care because I haven't got any money."

Mrs Smith, who is 90, has been in her care home for two years Credit: Family picture

Katie Blackburn from the Alzheimer's Society said couples like the Smiths were facing a terrible burden.

"They're facing crippling care costs trying to look after loved ones and support them, and that on top of the current cost of living crisis means people are making decisions and sacrifices that just shouldn't have to be there."

The family's case has also been taken up by their local Conservative MP in Ipswich who said he was putting pressure on the government to address the problem.

Tom Hunt said: "There are many constituents who are in exactly the same position that Clifford's in, and there are many other constituents who fear that they may be. I want that fear, that anxiety to be taken away."

Mr Smith said he would continue to be there for his wife, whatever happened.

A Department of Health and  Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to giving people more certainty over their care costs with plans to reform the way adult social care is paid for.

“In the meantime, the system already provides support for people in many ways. People can request a financial reassessment from their local authority at any time, including if their circumstances change.”

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