Care homes shouldn't be something to fear and not enough is said about the benefits for people living with dementia and their families, according to the widow of Scottish international rugby union player Norman Mair.

Lewine Mair's husband, who was described as "one of the finest sports writers Scotland had ever produced', died in 2014 at the age of 86 after having Alzheimer's for the last eight years of his life.

Mrs Mair, herself an award-winning sports writer, says the family's experience of residential care was positive and gave her peace of mind after initially feeling guilt-ridden at the prospect of leaving him there.


She kept a diary when he was in Thorburn Manor Care Home in Colinton and visited several others and poured her experiences of speaking to staff and residents into a book, which she hopes will show a more positive side of residential care.

"You get several celebrities saying, I wouldn't dream of putting my relatives into a care home - it's a terrible thing to do," said the 76-year-old author.

"When Norman went in, I was terribly worried. I thought it was going to be hideous because you have read so many terrible things.

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"I remember ringing the matron the next morning and asking her if he had been asking to come home or if he had been up and down the whole night and she said no, he had slept through the night and when he woke up he didn't know where he was and he didn't mind where he was. 

"He was fine.


"I thought that was quite reassuring for people to know. A lot of people I know have had the same experience. You just feel dreadful and to be told that they don't actually know they've gone anywhere, in a way it's quite reassuring."

She added: "There is so much fun about a care home, people wouldn't believe it because they have never seen inside of one.

"They just accept that they are gloomy places but there are a lot of nice things that happen in care homes.

"I'm not saying they are all good - of course they aren't - but we were very lucky.

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"The interaction between patients is good, often, there are lovely relationships with the staff.

"Visitors can make an incredible difference. They love to be chatted to by whoever is coming and going. T

“My grandchildren used to go in. Families should let their children go - kids probably benefit, they are only seeing a bit more of life."


Born in Edinburgh in 1928 Norman Mair also played for the Scotland national cricket team in 1952. He was capped once, playing against Worcestershire and scored four not out in his only innings.

The family was caring for him at home until the last two years of his life when he began to wander and the situation reached crisis point when he left the family home on New Year's Eve in 2012.

"That was quite terrifying," said his widow.

"Someone had told me - the crisis will come and I knew then. 

"Although I was getting a wonderful amount of help from my family we couldn't be dealing with it 24 hours a day.

"It's the organisation [you get in a care home].

"You could never get Norman to get what you wanted him to do. There was a time to get up and they all more or less did it."

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She said her husband's home had a "wonderful" head nurse, whom she refers to as Alfonso in the book and shares a touching story about the first time he met her husband.

She said: "Norman was quite bad with dementia and Alzheimer's and he went up to the nurse's station and rang the bell as if it was a hotel reception.

"He said he wanted a platter and Alfonso got out his notebook and wrote down all the things he wanted on this platter.

"It started with pate and tomatoes and ended with a bicycle.

"And this lovely nurse said 'Give me five minutes' and he came back with a cup of tea and Norman said, 'Oh, that's just what I wanted' and was absolutely happy and I thought that was so lovely.

"He just knew automatically how to deal with people."

Mrs Mair was the first woman to be signed up as a sports correspondent for a national daily paper and spent 18 years at The Daily Telegraph, six of them covering sport in general and the remaining 12 as the paper’s golf correspondent. 

When her husband went into the home she would play the piano to entertain residents, who are all given alternative names in her book - Tapping Feet: A Double-take on Care Homes and Dementia.

She says "Because I'm a golf correspondent I was always looking for stories and in there, I saw stories all the time.

"There was a farmer who came to see his wife every day, who had dementia.

"They had gone dancing on cruise ships and would win all the prizes. One day when I was playing the piano, this old farmer cleared the wooden floor and took his wife's hand and got her up to dance.

"It was so touching, they just, almost danced back into their past. It was beautiful."

Tapping Feet: A Double-take on Care Homes and Dementia is available on Amazon. A third of the profits will go to Head for Change, the book’s charitable partner.