man and lady inside houseHelp Me! I’m a Care Giving Spouse!

The New York Times ran a story estimating that 40 million women are the primary caregiver of a sick person.  Millions more caregivers are men. Often the case of a primary caregiver is one spouse taking care of another. If you’ve read this blog for long you have read some stories I’ve shared about my spouse and the struggles we’ve been through for the past eleven years. Now that I look back, although I’ve been asked thousands of times about my spouse’s well-being, very few people have ever asked me, “How are YOU doing?”  Only a care giving spouse can really understand the trials, stresses and physical toll the duty demands. Unfortunately caring for a spouse often ends in separation or divorce but it does not have to. Care giving spousal support is available.

 

Diana B. Denholm, who took care of her own husband during his extended illnesses, wrote a book called, “the Caregiving Wife’s Handbook,” in which she lists some do’s and don’ts for spouses.  I’ve included a few of them here with my own thoughts attached.

·         Don’t become an enabler. Encourage the spouse to do things that they are physically capable of performing so you do not get run down physically.

·         Ask for help when needed. Don’t let pride get in your way. Sometimes the ill spouse may not desire the assistance, but the help is for you, not him or her.

·         Take time for yourself. Many spouses neglect their own health both physically and mentally while taking care of their wives or husbands. If the spouse is on hospice, they may provide counseling and other support for you free of charge.

·         Take time to get away, both alone and with friends. You need time to relax mentally and relieve stress and help prevent burn-out. Schedule breaks at regular intervals and keep the schedule. Have a qualified person take over care during your absence if need be.  Even though it may cost some money to pay a sitter, the trade-off is a must. After all, how many times did you pay for a babysitter for your children so you and your spouse could “get away” for a few hours? The need for a change of pace and scenery is even more important now.

·         Get counseling for yourself. Sometimes simply talking about feelings can be a huge help. There is a process to grieving. You may have watched your spouse go through this as he or she came to grips with their disabling condition.  You may not realize it, but you probably are going through the same process. A feeling of being lost is common, especially for couples that were extremely close prior to the illness and relied on each other for many things. Now those things may not be getting done and the care giving spouse may not even know how to handle some matters like finances, home repairs, or even fixing meals.  

Get help for your spouse. Sometimes the strain of not feeling well can make a person extremely irritable and difficult to live with.  While you personally recommending they see a counselor will probably cause a scene, you can have a medical professional such as their doctor “prescribe” the counseling. This allows the recommendation to come from a third party and helps provide a buffer so the care giving spouse is not seen as the “bad guy.” 

You can purchase on Mrs. Denholm’s book on her website, http://www.caregivingwife.com and read more tips for caring for a husband. (No endorsement intended.)

Care Giving Spouse Assistance Websites

 AARP hosts an online community for caregivers on their website at http://community.aarp.org/t5/Caregiving/bd-p/bf41?intcmp=AE-HF-IL-COMM-CG. Members can enter the discussion and ask questions or give comments, while non-members can read about the experiences others have gone through and gain insight and advice from thousands of people in similar shoes.

The U.S. government operates a website focuses on connecting those caring for older people with resources available to them. Go to http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare.NET/Public/Index.aspx and enter in your zip code to find services in your area. Although the focus is eldercare, not so old people can get ideas of resources as well as contacts to find services available for younger people from this website.

Share the Care is an organization created to bring people together to promote care giving as a team effort between the caregiver, friends and other people in the community. Share the care has local groups to assist with care and counseling as well as online chat rooms. Visit http://sharethecare.org/caregivers-concerned-friends/ for more information.

Caring.com is a website geared toward caregivers in general, however they have a support section focusing on spousal caregivers. Spouses are encouraged to leave questions and comments and provide advice to others in the same position. Visit the spousal care section at https://www.caring.com/support-groups/caring-for-a-spouse.

Military

Military spouses have additional resources available to them through the family support centers located on most military installations. Helpers at the centers can connect you with non-medical counseling services as well as local resources, some of which the government may pay for.

Maybe Not?

One last thought. Perhaps you are not the best caregiver for your spouse. Some people cannot handle the stress and increased physical burden put on them by caring for another person, especially one that is so close to their heart. We are not all cut out of the same cloth. The decision to back out of being the primary helper for someone you may have been married to and taken care of for many years, even decades, can be excruciating. However, it may also be the best decision for your own sanity and health.  I’m not necessarily talking about leaving the person, but about obtaining outside help and assistance. Obviously this decision can be costly, but in the end it may prove to be the best route and leave you capable of maintaining a life that ultimately helps both you and your spouse.

Get Help!

Caring for a spouse with a disability can be one of the most taxing burdens we experience in life. Many of us fell in love and married a healthy specimen of humanity. Now that that specimen is no longer the robust individual they used to be we are saddled with the strain of care giving whether we want the position or not. Instead of simply walking out of the situation, getting help from the community, relatives, medical providers and counselors can benefit both you and your spouse and make the situation much less stressful and strenuous.

 

Guest blog by Helen Noscut

 

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http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/09/caregiving-as-a-roller-coaster-ride-from-hell/?_r=0


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