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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.

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"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. January 11, 2019 at 8:26 pm | Posted by J Bridges

    I have long past 64 I am now 69 almost seventy and have been doing this for 9 years now. Unless you have long term care policies or are financially independent there is no way out....period. 9 years ago my Mom passed. She had frontal temporal dementia and was in assisted living the last few years . I was her caregiver and the go to person for her mental illness the prior 25 years even though my father was still there. I left for a couple of days to take care of her arrangements and while I was gone my husband went out on one of his binders got food poisoning from the bar resulting in sepsis and a subsequent stroke. He has never once put in any real effort to help himself. Physically he came back with no paralysis etc but major issues with executive functioning which affects everything! It has been a living hell and is getting worse. Halfway through I had a heart attack . I most likely will die before him from the stress. Financially even if I could get a decent job at my age could we possibly live separately. There are no financial assistance resources out there to help. So so many of us fall between the cracks. My daughter helps where she can my son not at all. This is just not right there is no help anywhere. Most other countries help with their elderly...not us! I have many times "accepted" my circumstances until you just can't "accept" one more day. It is a hell you can't understand until you have lived it. If you had a loving relationship it is hard enough if it was a difficult relationship I would suggest you get out now before it is too late!!

    Reply

  2. January 10, 2019 at 6:40 pm | Posted by Sheryl Baize

    My husband suffered a severe stroke October 2017. He has made improvements, as he can now speak, but has a lot of trouble with word retrieval. He has no movement in his right leg, and tiny movements in his right arm. I am so grateful for what he has relearned. I am his sole caregiver. I do not get any time to myself....been tending to him 18 hours a day since he came home from Rehab in November 2017. He no longer tries to work his arm or leg unless I am there to do it with/for him. At one time he could move his foot....now he "forgets" to try to move it. If I stand there to watch, he will attempt, but that movement is now gone. He never wants to have a conversation, so I have no one to talk to. He spends all day watching TV. I get no time off, and not able to get away. I am losing myself, and have no way to dial it back.

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  3. December 21, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Posted by Lisa

    I see lots of Wives dealing with Husbands. I too have an ill husband who takes chemo meds for essential thrombocythemia (a mutogenic blood disorder...he makes too many platelets). He is not lazy or helpless...quite the opposite. In fact that is the biggest problem...he just keeps going and puts his health at risk daily. He suffers many side effects and is anorexic (one of the sides) which means he never eats. I have to try to find things and remind him to eat. He constantly refuses...says he is busy or sick or whatever. He vomits and has diarrhea. Needless to say he is not a very happy person. He doesn't sleep. He worries about EVERYTHING. I am STRUGGLING. Trying so hard to be supportive. Our marriage is definately suffering. He doesn't feed himself when I am gone (I work 3 days a week). I try to make or buy something....but I frequently am refused. When he feels his WORST his behavior is THE WORST. He will often push through his day harder...won't take a nap after sleeping only 4 hours or something. I have asked about therapy and it's fine if I go but not for him. I love him so much but he won't alter his behavior. He has always been stubborn and autocratic but now he's such an asshole and the man who I loved rarely show up before 8pm in the evening if he shows at all. I don't know why....relates to his meds I think. Any time I am upset or whatever or calling him out for being mean or negative he unloads. I start yelling because he's doing it again.....all while his health gets worse. He won't be proactive with his doctors....won't tell them about ALL his side effects. Meanwhile it aaaaalllll rolls onto me. I had breast cancer 5 years ago and I pray it stays away. This negative and toxic atmosphere is killing us both!

    Reply

  4. December 14, 2018 at 5:18 am | Posted by Joyce

    My husband had a severe stroke the first part of this year. I am his only caregiver He has made improvements which I am so Thankful for however the only thing that he can do on his own is brush his teeth and feed himself. I get 2 breaks a week to go to work for maybe 5 hours. I feel so isolated depressed all the time and no time for my family.We see his when they stop by maybe for 15 minutes at a time on most days I am losing it!

    Reply

  5. November 11, 2018 at 9:37 am | Posted by Shannon Meredith

    My husband had his back totally rebuilt seven years ago with rods and screw after several other minor back repairs that started the year after we were married. Due to high pain level a Pain Stimulator was installed but has not reduced his pain. Pain level runs between 6-8 the majority of the time meaning he can’t do anything around the house. Theirs leaves all work as well as books to me. I have a booth at an antique mall to keep me sane but over the past week he his pain level has increased to the point he can’t get out of bed causing me to wait on him hand and foot serving meals in bed and running for items he needs. I had my Lumbar 4,5 & S1 rupture in August and have barely been able to walk after 3 months. My first two months of recovery he stepped up and tried to be there for me but I couldn’t eat so he didn’t have to do much kitchen work. He has no friends or hobbies and relies totally on me. His children live their lives in other states and he seldom hears from them.

    Reply

  6. November 11, 2018 at 9:34 am | Posted by Shannon Meredith

    My husband had his back totally rebuilt seven years ago with rods and screw after several other minor back repairs that started the year after we were married. Due to high pain level a Pain Stimulator was installed but has not reduced his pain. Pain level runs between 6-8 the majority of the time meaning he can’t do anything around the house. Theirs leaves all work as well as books to me. I have a booth at an antique mall to keep me sane but over the past week he his pain level has increased to the point he can’t get out of bed causing me to wait on him hand and foot serving meals in bed and running for items he needs. I had my Lumbar 4,5 & S1 rupture in August and have barely been able to walk after 3 months. My first two months of recovery he stepped up and tried to be there for me but I couldn’t eat so he didn’t have to do much kitchen work. He has no friends or hobbies and relies totally on me. His children live their lives in other states and he seldom hears from them. I get so tired of all the demands on me and I’ve become resentful and depressed and get angry with myself for feeling resentful. I have a few friends and one sister I unload on but they have their lives.

    Reply

  7. October 28, 2018 at 2:31 pm | Posted by Miranda

    My husband broke his leg 3 weeks ago and he’s been on the couch ever since and constantly complains about his situation. He’s never comfortable and is just miserable to be around. I have two kids under 10 and now I find myself feeling like a single parent of three children. His injury happened and overnight my life was changed. He needs everything done for him and I’m EXHAUSTED. I used to complain about when he got sick with a cold because to him it was like having the flu. I had no idea it could get worse. He expects me to wipe his butt and then bathe him in the shower. He has two working arms but he’s totally milking this helplessness if his. He guilt trips me into caring for him in the bathroom by saying I’m putting him more at risk for further injury if I don’t clean him up. I make him food, I get him more ice for his leg, I refill his water cup, I dump his two rotating urinals all day long and I run errands for him.I also have our two other kids that need attention and care. I have a house that needs to be maintained, laundry that needs to be done, food that needs to be prepared, dishes that need to be done. Homework and school with the kids.I’m finding myself on edge. I’m moody and resentful of him injuring himself and putting us into this situation. All I want to do is lay under the covers all day and not do anything. I have my two kids that are left for hours to entertain themselves. I’m constantly on the verge of tears.I know one day he will heal but I’ve been told by the doctor that his leg will never be the same and I know from previous injuries he’s had that a lifetime of complaining of his old injury will continue. This leg injury will do nothing but add to him complaining about his chronic neck pain that he already deals with. I’m at my wits end right now and just need to vent.

    Reply

    • January 3, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Posted by Louise Ashburn

      I am in a similar situation but I have found out some things that helped me. Firstly, I have 5 urinals to rotate, and a bucket that will hold 3 of them. I leave my honey to use them as he wishes and he hangs them over a rail on a cart next to his bed. When it's convenient for me I take some in the bucket to empty and wash out. I got a special bottle brush that is used only for this and nice-smelling liquid soap. I also got him several large water bottles with wide bases and keep two or three filled by his bed so I am not refilling them all the time.Since his condition is permanent, I invested in a Rubbermaid cart that sits beside his bed and holds books, puzzles, adult coloring books and colored pens, the urinals, the water bottles, his phone charger, etc. It helps a lot just to have a designated place to put things. I also get him all set up and then tell him he has 5 minutes to make any requests and then I am going to work down the hall for an hour, or take a nap, or whatever I need to do. And then I do it. He has learned not to call me unless the house is on fire but I carry my cell phone just in case.Being loving but firm has worked to prevent him from acting like a spoiled child. In the beginning if he wouldn't listen or cooperate I just walked away. I realized he wouldn't die if He didn't get everything he wanted right when he wanted it! So now I have time to myself, I am able to be more loving because I am not so stressed.Next, I have boundaries. I don't do things that he can do for himself. It's okay to help when necessary but I have made it clear that I am going to encourage him to be self-sufficient as much as he is able.Also, I take an anti-depressant and see my doctor quarterly. For long-term caregiving that has been essential for me, and my female doctor has been a lot of help because her father was disabled so she saw what her mother had to do. One wise thing she told me was, "You won't have peace until you accept it...and accepting that this is where you are right now doesn't mean you have to like it!"

      Reply

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