Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Spouses Who Are Caregivers – Identifying and Avoiding Stress

Spouses Who Are Caregivers – Identifying and Avoiding Stress

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Family caregivers usually are fulfilled by their choice in life to provide much needed care for a loved one who needs that care.

Often we begin caring for our children and then seem to naturally progress to our parents, grandparents or in-laws who may have entered a phase where some level of care from others is required.

It may be something that begins in a small way, such as bringing them food now and then or helping with things around the house. It can quickly progress to more and more tasks and supervision, all the way up to hands on care.

Sometimes, despite all our care and best efforts, it becomes necessary to transition our loved ones in a facility where they can receive more skilled care than we can provide.

Aging in place is a goal for most of us and our senior loved ones and we as caregivers try to do everything we can possibly do to help them make this dream a reality. We will help them create the right living environment with simple modifications and big renovations or even finding a more appropriate home in which to age in place.

Caregivers’ Challenges

Unfortunately, every day is not always the best day. There will be harder days than others, crises that arise along the way including injury and hospitalization. Let’s not forget the occasional (or all too frequent) disagreement about even the littlest thing that soon gets smoothed over when we remember why we are all together.

Caregiver burnout is a reality that we all face. Getting an extra hand, recognizing that we can’t do it all by ourselves day in and day out, can help. Finding respite when you can and an outlet for your feelings will help you be a caregiver longer and better.

I recently came across an interesting poll that found caregiver stress has increased from an interesting source.

Caregivers Who Are Spouses

The Associated Press – NORC Center for Public Affairs Research recently published the results of a recent poll that asked approximately 1400 family caregivers questions resulting in some surprising answers.

They found that most Americans are counting on their families to provide care for them as they age, as they have been doing themselves for other relatives or friends. Unfortunately, not many of us are planning well for our own long term care. We can readily tell you where and how we want our funeral to happen and probably have already made plans and payments for that but we can’t tell you about our goals for day to day care before that happens.

We can’t talk about what kind of a facility we might consider, where we would want to get help, what our care wishes would be, and more importantly have probably not executed any advance directives stipulating our wishes.

This poll found that eight out of ten people found caregiving to be a positive experience but one that is also extremely difficult.

The most stress is being reported by spouses who are now caregivers — not children providing care to parents or grandparents as might be thought. Spouses did promise to care for each other in sickness and in health but find this promise to be stressful to deliver.

Struggling Spouses

Spouses express the struggle that they experience when their relationship changes from companion to caregiver. They deal with not only stress but anger and frustration. It can be hard when hands-on care over grooming, feeding, wound care and other duties are taken on that were once done by nurses now are their responsibility.

While some spousal caregivers report that their marriage is strengthened by their caregiving commitment, which is a welcome outcome in the face of other stressors, spouses were more likely to report that caregiving weakened their relationship with their partner and placed an added burden on their finances.

It is reported that only about 30 percent of those over 40 who may be likely to care for a loved one in the next five years feel prepared to do so. Spouses tend to be older caregivers than those caring for parents and that could make the caregiving more physically challenging as well. The average age of a spousal caregiver is 67, compared to 58 for those caring for parents.

How to Identify and Overcome Caregiver Stress

If you begin to recognize signs that you are having what could be an overwhelming amount of stress that could be harming your health or ability to care for your spouse then it is time to take action.

  • Recognize signs of stress – being tired all the time, having difficulty sleeping, feeling unappreciated with no one to talk to or care about you, feeling depressed or hopeless, not ever feeling like there is a good day, feeling like your own life is not worth living, being ill yourself, crying often or you begin isolating yourself from others.
  • Begin taking time for yourself – sometimes you need to call someone to give you an hour, an afternoon, a day or a weekend off. There are people you can call, such as family members, volunteers from faith based organizations, organizations, home health agencies or friends. Just being alone, taking a breather, shopping, lunch with a friend, sleeping late or seeing a movie can mean a lot to your personal and emotional well-being.
  • Get a medical checkup – schedule a doctor visit for yourself. Get your preventive health checkup or immunizations to help keep you well. You can’t help others if you are not well.
  • Talk to someone – go to a support group locally or online, talk with a member of the clergy, find a friend, or keep a journal so that you can express your feelings and allow yourself to move on past those feelings.

Being a caregiver whether to your spouse, mother, aunt or grandfather not to mention caring for your own children and household will always cause moments of stress. Remember the importance of what you do every day. You are right where you are supposed to be!

Being able to recognize, though, that burnout might be lurking but you can overcome it in order to be the best caregiver possible is the first step in staying well. One smile is all the thanks you need to provide the love and care your spouse or family member needs.

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