Question: My husband is 61 and he has already had two strokes. He is diabetic, has high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. He was in a nursing home two years ago—he was there for a year after a fall and hip replacement. At the end of the year he had very bad dementia, then he got better and I brought him home and have been caring for him since then. The doctor advised me against bringing him home as he was (is) an alcoholic. He has started drinking beer again and now drinks at least four 18 ounce bottles each morning and afternoon. He is disabled and in a wheelchair; he is very unappreciative of all the help I give him; he is selfish and only thinks of himself. In fact, he tells everyone I take his disability check and he gets nothing. He is rude—even to the nursing assistant who comes six days a week. I work from home and he is miserable at times. I have fibormylagia and the stress from all of this is making it worse. I feel as if I am at my end. We are together 365 24/7, no other family helps to take him to give me a break. I am thinking of putting him back in nursing home and feel bad about it. He said he was not going and would kill himself before he goes back. How do I make all this better so I can have a life and not be resentful toward him?
Dr. Amy: Caregiving really isn’t something you can do by yourself long term, without a break. It can be challenging for many reasons, as you know, and doing it alone can be overwhelming. When we feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to make decisions or take steps to improve our situation. Things can easily get worse when we feel stuck, and this can make us feel even more overwhelmed than before.
You need emotional support and help exploring your options. A support group is an excellent first step. I encourage you to ask your doctor for a recommendation. I also wonder if your husband might be open to getting some emotional support to make his own journey more joyful and appreciative. If he is, his doctor will be able to recommend a support group for him.
There are a number of resources you can turn to help you assess your situation and your options. One of the best is a geriatric care manager. I am a huge fan because they really understand older adults’ health, psychology, and human development—and at the same time they have an excellent understanding of public and private resources. This includes funding sources. It is possible that you have other choices, aside from the nursing home, including adult day care and respite care. In a single consultation with a geriatric care manager, you can get a lot of answers. Make sure to tell the care manager about your husband's threats to kill himself. I encourage you to read a little more about this profession.
Being together as much as you and your husband are can be challenging even in the best of situations. Respite care can give you a break to rest and restore your energy and sense of balance. There are a number of different ways to get respite care, including informal and formal, volunteer and paid. You mention that you don’t have any family support. Is it possible that you can ask for help while you take a break? Who among your friends and family might be able to lighten your load and let you take a break regularly? If a geriatric care manager is too expensive, you might also call an adult day care in your area, and your local Area Agency on Aging in your community and ask them for resources.
Last but by no means least, are you able to talk to your husband about his behavior? If he has dementia, this will not be a big success. But if you feel you can, focus on your own personal feelings rather than blaming or judging him. Saying “I’m having a hard time because I am not feeling appreciated for the things I am doing for you” rather than “You never thank me for anything” may make it easier for him to hear what you have to say. It’s a way to start a conversation about what you both need during these challenging times.
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