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Providing Care and Support for a Spouse

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"…I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life…" Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How do I love thee?

The care of a spouse surely has its rewards. One advantage is that the partner who is need of care or assistance is already comfortable with the caregiver. You know each other's idiosyncrasies, habits and preferences. You also know each other intimately so it eases any embarrassment when dealing with private needs. You also know the home environment and what areas might be in question when it comes to safety issues.

On the down side, however, the caregiving spouse may feel odd about asking others for much needed help, fearing their loved one will be embarrassed or uncomfortable if anyone else provides care or knows that they need this care.

Spousal caregivers often feel so much stress since they also live with the person they are caring for, which doesn't provide for any breaks physically or emotionally. "It is important that the spouse continue to do some of the activities she or he likes, whether it is singing in the church choir or going to the monthly book club meeting, so that he or she continues to socialize outside of the home and give themselves a breather," advises Richard Schulz, Ph.D., caregiver stress expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It is important that, as a caregiver of a spouse, you don't assume you can handle everything," said Dr. Schulz. "In a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we found that spousal caregivers who experienced mental or emotional strain were more likely to die sooner than non-caregivers. Sometimes even the most resourceful person needs to ask for help from other family members or outside professionals - the hard part is knowing when to ask."

In order to help you understand when the stress might be getting to be too much for you, we've created a list of signs that spousal caregiving may be becoming too risky for you.

In the end, it is important that as a caregiver, you maintain your own health, because if you aren't well, you will be less able to help your spouse.

Last revised: April 11, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. November 2, 2020 at 1:12 pm | Posted by nancy cleland

    my husband of over 51 years has been disabled since ankle fusion surgery in march. add to that , being quarantined because of the covid. He has had 3 surgeries since march, same problem. Hoping to get out of cast this week. He wore external fixator on leg and ankle until 2 weeks ago. Totally confined to wheel chair. I had to clean the 18 pin holes at least twice a day. Had to help him with everything,shower, meals, meds. I have walking difficulties also, on a walker. Our 3 sons are in same town, but have jobs and their own family. Trying so hard not to complain. God has been my strength, could not have made it without Him. So glad to have WalMart grocery pickup. And thank goodness for drive through restaurants. It is not easy, but I have made it so far. Am ready to be able to get him out and just take a ride, other than to the doctor. Make the most of each day.


  2. October 28, 2020 at 7:04 am | Posted by Missy

    My husband has cancer for the second time. Everything was dumped on me to do the first time around. It is happening again this time around. no family & no friends. My husband & his doctors treat me like a servant. None of my needs are ever met. No one cares about the burden placed on me.


    • November 2, 2020 at 1:19 pm | Posted by nancy cleland

      i understand. I hope you know Jesus, he will be your strength and best friend. In the last few years, my husband had cancer,a stroke, and 3 surgeries for ankle fusion. Also lost his job, plant closed, the next day after his stroke. 2 days after I retired, i fell and broke my hip and leg in 2 places. Have not recovered completely yet. Try to not resent your situation. You will feel better one day. Praying for you and your husband.


  3. March 22, 2019 at 7:46 pm | Posted by Frances Gillion

    My husband is 74 and has Alzheimer’s. I try so hard to not get angry but I find myself reacting to his negative statements. I tell myself everyday that I’m not going to react to his statements. But after I’ve repeated myself over and over again I let my response to him sound unkind. I read the other comments and it made me realize I’m not alone. I just have to work on how I respond back to him.


  4. February 7, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Posted by Joyce Ragan

    I am a 76 year old retired R N caring for my husband of 54 years. I am trapped in the house with him. He is a diabetic and has Parkinson's and Lewy Body dementia. If I get some help so I can run errands, banking, groceries, he often a accuses . me of seeing other men. Right! He is paranoid and doesn't understand that I need to get out sometimes. So many books, blogs are about taking care of a parent not a spouse. When you are elderly yourself with accompanying fatigue and health issues it's doubly hard. I have not seen a doctor, dentist or ophthalmologist in 2 years. I particularly hate having to shoulder the car maintenance, income tax,, and other necessary things he used to take care of. If I could take time for my hobbies like painting, or quilting which I used to enjoy,, I would be less stressed. But instead I have to do bookkeeping and other boring stuff plus take care of him. I really need a vacation. Good to hear from other wives in my situation. We have kind of our own sisterhood


    • March 8, 2018 at 7:35 pm | Posted by Kathryn Benhardus

      I can totally relate. I am the full time caregiver for my disabled husband. I do all the traditional female duties and all the traditional male duties PLUS take care of him. At age 71 with a heart condition I have no business shoveling heavy wet snow, but there I am, shovel in hand. Worse than the endless hours of work is the enormous burden of responsibility for all financial and medical decisions, and the knowledge that you alone are keeping another person alive. Coupled with this is the knowledge of his self-inflicted wounds. He is a long time diabetic who refused to watch his diet or exercise until he was morbidly obese and unable to walk.


  5. July 12, 2017 at 11:18 pm | Posted by Donna

    I can relate to several of the above caregivers, but I am probably more angry than most. My husband is dealing with PTSD, MST and dementia. Mean, angry and very destructive. I can't leave him alone for a second. I am totally isolated in our home. He thinks he is fixing things, but breaks them and then hides them so I won't find out. He refuses to clean his teeth and gets really angry when I try to force him. He takes a shower without soap or a washcloth, and ruins the shower curtain and the bathroom floor, and gets angry when I insist on soap. And then he lies to me about all of these things. He is so lazy, he won't unbutton his shirt to take it off, and tears holes with the buttons. Everything is a destructive shortcut, so he can sit and stare. Very little speech left. He does gross things at dinner, so I can't take him out to eat anymore. Friends and family don't come anymore either. They don't understand why I am upset. I've had to hide and lock up all the power tools, but he takes my silverware and uses them for tools to destroy things. I can't even go to the doctor or dentist for myself. I am at the end of my rope.


  6. April 23, 2017 at 2:31 am | Posted by Janice

    I am. Currently caring for my husband of 44 yrs.He has been sick with pancreatic issues,12. Surgeries and as many complications.He is 6'4" and weighs 110 lbs.I have been dealing with depression for yrs.on and off AND IM ON medicine for it.Just seems like I can't get to a comfortable place while for him.He does not take care of himself.But doesn't want me to tell him anything.Does anyone else deal with this? Thank you for a place to talk.


  7. June 22, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Posted by Connie Farmer

    Need advice on the stress of being a caregiver for my husband of almost 33 yrs. I feel we are better being apart than having all the stress on me. He has orthostatic hypotension and diabetes but is a very picky eater and knew he was sick a long time ago. I resent having to take care of someone who refused to take better care of himself, so not only Myself but my daughter who moved out completely care for him, I live with so much indecision about staying with him and I suffer from fibromyalgia and depression with chronic fatigue. I don't like who I am when I am with him. He has numerous health problems but I am too tired to keep going. Thanks for listening, Connie Farmer


  8. April 15, 2016 at 1:09 pm | Posted by robertarobusto

    i can identify with several of these stories. my bigest problem is the loss of the security i had with my husband, and the sadness for him,because he cannot express what he thinks. The frustration level for both of us is very high.


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