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Signs that Spousal Caregiving May Be Becoming Too Risky for You

Spousal caregiving may becoming risky
All caregivers who experience elevated levels of stress are at an increased risk for physical and emotional issues.

Find home care near you or your loved one:

"Will you still need me,
will you still feed me,
when I'm sixty-four."
The Beatles, "When I'm 64"

Times have certainly changed since Lennon and McCartney penned and sang those words in 1967. Medical and healthcare strides are allowing people to live well into their 70's and 80's. Despite those health advances, the fact remains that caring for a spouse in need, regardless of their age, is very demanding, stressful and could threaten your own health.

The Journal of American Medical Association reports that if you are a spousal caregiver between the ages of 66 and 96, and are experiencing ongoing mental or emotional strain as a result of your caregiving duties, there's a 63% increased risk of dying over those people in the same age group who are not caring for a spouse.

As a caregiving spouse, you may begin to feel very isolated from friends and feel tremendous guilt about your own unmet needs. There can also be a sense of loss, especially if your spouse suffers from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

So how do you know if caregiving is becoming too risky for you? Examine this list and see how many apply to you:

  • Missing or delaying your own doctor appointments
  • Ignoring your own health problems or symptoms
  • Not eating a healthy diet for lack of time
  • Overusing tobacco and alcohol when you feel stressed
  • Giving up exercise habits for lack of time
  • Losing sleep
  • Losing connections with friends for lack of time to socialize
  • Bottling up feelings of anger and frustration and then being surprised by angry, even violent, outbursts directed at your spouse, other family members, co-workers - even strangers
  • Feeling sad, down, depressed or hopeless
  • Loss of energy
  • Lacking interest in things that used to give you (and your spouse) pleasure
  • Feeling resentful toward your spouse
  • Blaming your spouse for the situation
  • Feeling that people ask more of you than they should
  • Feeling like caregiving has affected family relationships in a negative way
  • Feeling annoyed by other family members who don't help out or who criticize your care

All caregivers who experience elevated levels of stress are at an increased risk for physical and emotional issues.

Even if you are only experiencing two or three of these items, it is important to get help and support.

The truth is your spouse/partner will be in better hands if you are healthy.

Last revised: April 11, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. July 8, 2021 at 3:59 pm | Posted by Lynette

    My husband started with open heart surgery and went straight into cancer and 13 surgeries … he has been pretty much been in remission .. and has somewhat returned to doing what he use to for others and makes mistake after mistake until some one gets hurt . I am so hurt and frustrated I can not be in the same room … At sits end


  2. June 24, 2021 at 10:06 pm | Posted by Becy Irvin

    My husband has end stage renal failure.We do home PD Been doing it for two years.We had just retired when he got sick.So all of our plans went down the drain.He is on oxygen and now in wheelchair.He goes from bed to the couch.I am in charge of ordering his supplies and hooking him to his dialysis machine at night.And unhooking him in the morning. I had to get rid of my garden couldn't keep it up.I also had to learn how to drive a tractor to mow.I no longer feel like a wife but a nurse.I'm afraid to go anywhere because he might fall.I get mad at him then get mad at myself for getting mad.because he didn't ask for this.Thank you for letting me vent !It's hard sometimes.


  3. April 25, 2021 at 1:50 pm | Posted by Colorado Kate

    I thought I was coping well enough with my 72 y.o. Since December he has husband. He has had increasing prostate priblems and and bladder infections, catheters etc etc exacerbated by Covid and including 911 hospitalization. Toooo much to describe here. I admit that his pain and suffering is awful and likely beyond my ability to understand. My sudden exolosions of anger have increased to the most recent incident where I just threatened to slap him. Not the first time! threw water on him and threw many of his books and other stuff into his bedroom. That I am a christian was not at all apparent. I am overwelmed with my feelings of hating him and the ways I have turned to that are so very disfunctional.


  4. March 25, 2021 at 8:30 am | Posted by Sergio

    Reading all these comments and here I am getting flustered over taking care of my wife who has a bad knee and she needs crutches to walk around. That's pretty much it. We have been married for about a year and we have no kids. Praying God takes care of you all.


  5. March 24, 2021 at 9:58 pm | Posted by Raffinee

    My husband is 75 and newly diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer. He has a feeding tube, he has prostate trouble and a Foley catheter in. Meeting with Oncologist on Friday. He has terrible diarrhea from the tube feeding and can not always make it to the bathroom. (diarrhea was an issue before too) I am 18 yrs younger than him but I am on disability retirement and have been since 2001. I can not physically meet the demands of caring for him at home. It will all get worse as radiation, chemo and eventually surgery will take its toll on him. He will still have a feeding tube. I am so stressed and so worried. He can not grasp the magnitude of all of this as he is just thinking he will fight the cancer and all will fall into place. We have a house with a yard and a large dog. We have no family to help near us. How are we ever going to get through this??


  6. August 22, 2020 at 12:11 am | Posted by Robin Graniero

    Have you ever considered reaching out to domestic violence counselor or agency? Some ideas come to my mind -possible resolutions Doesn’t verbal abuse negatively impact the brain? A form of abuse that is just as destructive...You will find the answer is YES! You need confidence tools ! Take the high road and call the hotline for domestic abuse. Even though you aren’t in A physical crisis they can point you in the right direction...for help. Call a Community Action Center, the YWCA, even his own Doctor ...try requesting a visiting nurse they can get his ass in a nursing home for his verbal abuse! And you will get a portion of his benefits to help maintain a home for your children and you as his wife! Social Security is Federal agencies. It’s exhausting but you will be in better shape than you are now- knowledge is power! Habitat for Humanity for housing it’s worth a chance! You owe this man nothing. What about the marriage vow to love and honor each other. Is he honoring you? No ! The cliche, “ it takes a village “, is true. But if you are you are alone in this you have to reach out for help. Create your own village for yourself and your children. Your isolation from being his caregiver is stressful enough! Combined with His put downs. You do need to RUN In the mean time ...get your ducks in a row. ALANON could be a good start! Even if he is not an alcoholic ...their devotional can bring you comfort, hope and then possibly clarity! Their little books and meetings even (if you can’t get to their meetings) , reach out to them and they will mail you the books of devotional’s . Which are packed with power for all suffering from verbal abuse and give you tools ... thoughts of independence and power. When you find Time take 15 minutes a day or once a week to work on your future. By calling agencies...You will open the door to get support and ideas you deserve. Unfortunately...there is no quick fix in your situation. Push yourself to help yourself! And pray for strength! I know your pain ! Confide in ...your own doctor. Don’t delay! You have done all you can do! You are a good person ! And need a fresh start! He will find his way in life! He will get lots of help. Find yours first for the sake of your children. I lost everything...and rebounded. You can too!


  7. August 17, 2020 at 8:41 pm | Posted by Robin Alcini

    I am caring for my husband who was left paralyzed after 5 back surgeries. He is bed bound and then received stage 4 pressure ulcers while in rehab. He has rapidly gained weight lying in bed. I can no longer even turn him over. Impossible to keep him clean as I cannot handle moving him around. Am strongly considering a full care facility but know this will devastate him. Haven’t figured out how to approach the subject. Please help.


  8. May 30, 2020 at 7:39 am | Posted by Denise

    I feel for each of you and I’m so sorry for your emotional and physical pain. Nine years ago I married my second husband. At the time he had been through a couple of successful back surgeries and was pain free. Oddly enough he was reluctant to marry me since I have ms, but had few problems. Fast forward two years. He re-injures his back, has to have more surgery and go on disability. Although he had home physical therapy, he’s too lazy to do prescribed exercises. This leads to more surgery and pain. Now he needs yet another surgery. Whenever I ask how he’s doing, I get the same answer, ‘I’m doing awful and am hurrying so bad.’ Never a ‘okay today, some pain.’ It’s exhausting! He insisted on selling our home 300 miles to be closer to his family...this right after his surgeon informed him he needed surgery again. I urged him to cancel the contract on our home, but he refused. Now we are living in his parents house while he not only is waiting for surgery, but promises to build a house on property his parents are giving us. His complaints are holding up any attempt at building...I have no clue as to the home building process. He constantly complains and pouts whenever I suggest just buying a house and nixing the idea of building...I’m at the point of just buying a trailer if he wants to live on his parents land. Now my health is suffering...I’m 49 and he’s 58. I’m depressed and causing my ms symptoms to get worse. He’s worried about himself and couldn’t care less the stress this situation has on my health. I’m stuck with him since I had to go on disability myself, although I still have to care for him and not the opposite. The money I get wouldn’t be enough to support myself. Like others, I wish a meteor would hit me. At least that would be my out. God bless everyone else who feels the helplessness of their situation.


    • August 4, 2020 at 6:11 pm | Posted by Stephanie

      Sending you light and the energy to take care of yourself. I also am a caregiver for my husband. Some differences and similarities to your situation. It’s emotionally draining. I recently spoke with three female friends I have... Each of us in different situations, careers and economic differences. What we each have in common, married and one widowed, is that we each have ourself to rely on. I know this does not change your situation but I’m learning this is very common for most, if not all women in this stage of life! Best to you. Be well. Stay well. Peace.


  9. May 25, 2020 at 4:45 am | Posted by Bobby jo

    My husband is 40 and I am 36 we have 2 kids ages 4 and 6. 6 months ago he had an aortic dissection, spinal stroke which left him quadriplegic..on top of that... The hospital left a towel in his chest which led to sepsis, bed sores and a leg amputation...He requires 24 hour care.. Diapers, wound vacs, Hoya lifts, there is so much I am now left with the kids, bills, Drs, appts, chores, errands, yard work, dogs etc...I skipped a shower for 3 days because I just don't have any time.. we have no extended family and recently moved to a new State so our friends are far...I feel myself getting short with my kids ..or not having time to do games or just enjoy them... We can't go on outing anymore because I don't have a wheelchair van.. And I can't leave him alone...I rush through shopping and he had been hinting towards sexual acts.... But only because he feels I may leave him or cheat (which is super offensive) but besides having not showered, or being exhausted...I have a hard time seeing him sexually anymore... How do you wipe someone's poop then get sexual? I can't... I'm scared... Not only for my mental health but for my kids sacrifice and for our marriage... Will this every get easier? I'm pending for long term care and disability so no nursing and no respite plus I'm not getting paid yet even tho I had to quit my job.... Bills are piling up and I don't know how much longer I can bare all this burden or how I can organize it so it doesn't feel so heavy.... I'm desperate for advise?? I feel like I've lost whole life...I don't know how to transition into this new reality


    • February 15, 2021 at 11:07 am | Posted by Stephanie

      I’m so sorry you are going through this. I understand you frustration and pain. I too have been caring for my quadriplegic husband for 22 years. I encourage you to take one moment at a time. Does he have insurance that would allow a home health aide in g to be home a few hours a day?


  10. February 22, 2020 at 2:47 am | Posted by Brad Bearnson

    I've been my wife's caretaker for 22 years. She is 42 with progressive MS. she's been in a chair for 15 years of the 22. Her mobility is all but gone. My health is deteriorating as well, I'm on two different types of anti depressants. I am tried.


    • February 22, 2020 at 2:50 am | Posted by Brad Bearnson

      Tired as well as tried.


    • April 21, 2020 at 11:45 pm | Posted by Mike P.

      Brad...You will be fine if you just remember and dwell on the vows you took when you and your wife were married. I am now in year 42 of taking care of my wife. She too has Primary Progressive MS and has been in a wheelchair longer than I can remember. Brad, if you don't have a hobby you can do at home when your wife is resting, you need to get one.....anything to create an interest outside the care taking obligation you have. I know you love your wife....22 years is a long time....and remember....if the situation were reversed, she'd be there for you. Stay mentally strong and the physical strength will come. Also, now is a good time to learn something new....keep mentally and physically active!


    • June 22, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Posted by LInda

      Please find a therapist for yourself and a support group. It helps to have a safe place to vent, cry, talk and be listened to. If you don't take care of yourself you are no use to her.


  11. February 2, 2020 at 8:47 pm | Posted by Stacey Miller

    I was already over my marriage. I love him and always have but he had always treated me bad. Cheated, name calls, left me for a family member, he's physically and emotionally abusive. I was already looking too leave. Then he had an Aortic Dissection aneurysm and spinal stroke which left him paralyzed. 40 days in hospital was the best days in so long... My children ages 4 and 6 and I home... Able to focus. Breathe, not feel constantly critized .. I have no family help, I'm now left to care for him 24/7 and he acts like I owe him. Says I do nothing, tells others , in a joking way, that I starve him and ignore his needs. I was a stay at home mom, so all the money in our house stopped.... I've been calling day in and day out for resources, posting go fund me, dealing with his family from out of town, still going to hospital every day, filling ssi, atlas . Taking our son to school, homework, housework, and now, trash, the yard, feeding the dogs and their poop.. and if he calls out more than once and I don't hear, I'm a stupid bitch, just call his mom, don't touch him. Refuses meds, temp anything then says, he was in pain and hungry and I wouldn't do anything to help.....I hate him....I feel like I have nothing left. I sometimes have to force myself to properly care for him because as I'm cleaning up his poopy diaper head calling me a stupid bitch and saying everything I do is wrong.. bed sores are my fault. I am financially BADDD LIKE WE GOT SERVED EVICTION I'm trying to raise money. Raise my kids, protect them, take his abuse I don't feel like I can do this. .?? I want to just run away and hide, he's draining me from my kids and myself.... What do I do?? Help I need advise or I fear severe depression on my party


    • February 10, 2020 at 9:12 pm | Posted by Sally O'Malley

      Stacey Miller - what about putting him in a nursing home? If his family disagrees then they can take care of him 24/7. He should have disability, which means he should have Medicare...he could go into a nursing home! You don't deserve to be treated so horribly. He will ruin your health and your kids will suffer, too. You have to figure out how to make a living to take care of your kids, which he is unable to do. Like you said, you were already going to leave him anyway. If you are a "stupid bitch" or do "everything wrong" then let him experience how things are done in a nursing home and see how he likes it then!


  12. January 27, 2020 at 11:42 am | Posted by Val

    I have been reading all the posts. My story is, I take care of my 72 year old husband. He has stage 4 cancers. He has had surgery, chemo and radiation. Now doing immunotherapy. In and out if hospital with a few infection. He us very depressed. Don't want to eat, or go out. I am now finding very hard to cope. Know it isn't going to get better for us, but try to stay positive.


    • March 17, 2020 at 8:01 am | Posted by Kathleen M Bagley

      Put him in a nursing home. When someone shows you no appreciation, that's never going to change whether they are sick or not. Run and I do mean RUN if you want any sanity for yourself and your children. I have been tending to a sick x husband which I should have never gotten back with, and now I am 61 and I suffer on a daily basis. Even my dogs noticed the difference in my home once my x came home from the hospital for the 6th time. Please RUN...….


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