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Devon’s holiday home overlooking the Exe Estuary

PUBLISHED: 12:38 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:38 28 April 2015

Sallie Rutledge at The Mede, Topsham. Ref dl 9331-10-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

Sallie Rutledge at The Mede, Topsham. Ref dl 9331-10-15AW. Picture: Alex Walton

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A bijou self-catering holiday home in Devon overlooking the Exe Estuary is making waves as a special means of support and therapy for those wishing to break the routine of a life with dementia, reports Emma Parfitt

Sally Rutledge (centre on bench) with her guests at her fifth anniversary party for her businessSally Rutledge (centre on bench) with her guests at her fifth anniversary party for her business

It was while relaxing on a sunny beach in Salcombe that Exeter nurse Sallie Rutledge made a decision that would help shape her life for the next five years and the lives of many others. She had decided to submit a bid to buy a bijou bungalow cosily tucked in the blanket of a mid-Devon close in Topsham, within a seagull’s view of the River Exe and nearby charming cathedral city of Exeter. The bid was perhaps a little speculative, as she did so: “Without telling my husband!” she laughingly recalls.

Five years later and with her family’s backing, I meet the very approachable and efficient qualified nurse Sallie, celebrating five-years minding The Mede. The Mede is the name for her five-bed rental bungalow. She also rents next door’s Seaward House bungalow as a day facility for daily activities for guests, and stays (it sleeps four). Locally gossip has done the rounds and some locals may have Sallie’s number already in their address books if looking

for respite when caring for those with dementia. Guests are travelling from as far away as Essex, or as close as Okehampton.

As I peer through the portholed windows in the Mede’s interior doors, I can see that it does meet a need, equipped to a high standard for a family, or couple in spacious hall, lived-in living-room, wet room, modest kitchen, and handy grab-rails should the need arise. Sallie effuses confidence and likes to chat - obviously smoothing away real worries with her thoughtful extra touches of lovely food to order, laundry and equipment in readiness for each stay. Although she can not give any nursing or personal care, she says:“I can ensure that if you need help while you are away from home, I can put that in place.” Already bookings are as steady as she goes, and it is all hands on deck in high season. As I visit they are at the start of what looks to be a busy time as The Mede is prepped between lets and made ship-shape (Bristol fashion) by Sallie’s helpful daughter Emma. Sallie knows first-hand how difficult it is to care for someone

with dementia.

Her late father-in-law, John had Alzheimer’s for ten years. After John passed away, mother-in-law, Sheila, spoke to the family about how difficult it was to cope in their final years together. Sallie relates: “She says she would often wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and wonder what sort of day she was going to have. Worrying about getting through the day and dreading what it may bring. Every morning was the same.” At the time her parents-in-law were a two hours drive away. Sallie recalls: “So I felt I never did enough to help with the day-to-day caring of him. My mother-in-law was exhausted, but said: ‘Don’t worry about me, I’m fine!’ but then she broke her hip and John went into a nursing home.” She always wonders if she had had a few days off, a night away, it might have given her more strength to cope for longer. Sallie explains. “I started Dementia Guest House Care (as it was first known) in my own home. But the masses of steps made me rethink and I sought a bungalow with sweeping estuary views.”

As I leave with a fact sheet on cognitive stimulation therapy in my laptop bag, Sallie is putting potatoes into the oven for her eight activity-club guests and helpers, ensuring they enjoy their chicken Kiev lunch. I can imagine the lovely aroma that will soon be wafting from the confines of Seaward House, drifting on the breeze over the Exe. Sallie’s recipe for relaxation, therapy days and a break from routine, might just be what the doctor ordered.

Contact Sallie Rutledge on 07718 976072 or 01392 421189 or at themede.org

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