Question: My wife and I are both 70 years old. I take care of all her needs, from medication control, nutrition, hygiene, etc. It's becoming a 24/7 job and is tearing at my nerves. Where can I go for help, especially with sharing? She doesn't want anyone else’s help—no aides, etc.
Dr. Amy: Often, in an attempt to provide excellent care for a loved one, caregivers like you endure schedules and levels of stress that are hard to imagine. I often suggest that caregivers and care receivers need to consider how decisions will affect the entire family– not just the person who needs the care. Decisions that appear to be good for one person but are not good for another almost always end up being bad decisions for everyone. That’s because caregivers may burn out or may become resentful.
One way to consider how to balance your wife’s needs with your own is to write things down. Try this: divide a piece of paper into two columns. At the top of one column put your wife’s name and at the top of the other column put your name. Now, thinking about one of the care options you have, such as having an aide come in to help for example, write down how this option will affect you in the column with your name on it and then write down how it will affect your wife. If the picture doesn’t look good for one option, try other options and repeat the exercise until you reach a decision that works best. If you aren’t sure what options are available, you can call your local Area Agency on Aging to ask them what services are available in your area. Remember that the goal isn’t to make perfect decisions. It’s about making the best decision for the whole family in a difficult situation. Caregiving really is a matter for the whole family, and all family members need to be considered as decisions and plans are made. If this exercise sounds difficult, you might ask someone to help manage the conversation. A wise friend or family member, a leader of your faith community, or someone from a community organization could help.
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