Cora Long still recalls how she was forced to face the emotional and physical strain of caring for her husband Tom at their home in Scariff, Co Clare.
"Caring for Tom was a 24-hour-a day responsibility. I was never off duty," she said.
After a series of mini-strokes, Tom developed Aphasia – inability to speak.
Cora cared for him for nine years, until he passed away at the age of 74 in July 2012. For the last 18 months of his life, he was completely bedridden.
"It was one of Tom's consultants who first warned me of the need to look after myself."
The doctor had previously suggested that Cora avail of respite care, but she'd insisted that she and her children were fine: "There was guilt associated with taking up the offer of respite."
But one day the consultant got firm: "He said straight out that I wasn't managing fine, that I was totally stressed.
"He said that if he said something nice to me I'd probably start crying. I immediately started crying.
"He asked me to think what would happen to Tom if I got sick. At that stage I was exhausted from lack of sleep, and stressed out from worry about Tom and I hadn't acknowledged any of it.
"I had great support from my two children and between us we'd really tried to manage but I needed more help and I wasn't acknowledging it."
From then on, Cora took Respite Care when she was offered it – at the very least, it gave her the opportunity to get a few good nights' sleep: "The majority of carers become carers overnight – someone will have a stroke, for example, so you step in and start paddling.
"For more than 99pc of carers this means you have to put the life you had to one side.
"You think you'll get it back someday – but you don't always, because, in my case at least, the person I shared my life with is no longer there.
"You also put your own well-being to one side, unless you are told that you have to watch out for yourself," she said.
Now chairwoman of the East Clare Caring for Carer's Group, Cora emphasises the importance of taking advantage of the offer of respite care:
"Make sure you have somebody to sit with the person you're caring for to let you go out. You have to get away, even if it may only be for an hour or two but it will rejuvenate you.
"I was always against the clock and even if I did go for a walk, I'd be worried about going too far because I'd have to get back to Tom. If I was doing it again, I wouldn't be so worried about taking a little bit of time.
"People don't see you, the focus is all on the sick person. You have to look out for yourself. If that consultant hadn't intervened I could have become very sick."