Caregiving for a elderly loved one can be very stressful, particularly when the caregiver is also the spouse and emotions are involved.
Under healthy circumstances, spouses draw support from each other. When a spouse becomes the caregiver, not only do they lose the traditional help around the home, they also lose emotional support from their spouse. Many spousal caregivers feel utterly distressed because they feel the journey of caregiving is one that they must undertake alone.
Spousal caregivers often are more stressed than the spouse being cared for which can actually often result in the caregiver predeceasing the care recipient.
Family caregivers are so often consumed in the caring process that they often forget themselves. For the spousal caregiver, who may be a senior, there can be additional issues such as suffering from one or more chronic illness themselves.
It is therefore important to realize any signs of caregiver burnout before it occurs.
If you are caring for a spouse, have you noticed any of the following?
- Feeling helpless and hopeless
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulties relaxing, even when help is available
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling increasingly resentful to the person you are caring for
- Drinking, smoking or eating more
- Cutting back on leisure activities
- Having less energy than you once had
- Constantly exhausted (even after sleeping or breaks)
- Neglecting your own needs (too busy or you don’t care anymore)
- Your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
- Feeling tired and run down, even after taking breaks
- Difficulty sleeping
Is one of your parents caring for a spouse? Are they exhibiting any of these signs?
- Anxious & irritable
- Overreacting to minor nuisances
- New or worsening health problems
- Weight Loss / Gain
- Increase drinking or smoking
- Decreased socializing
- Changed household habits – signs of neglect, clutter, bills unpaid etc.
- Changed Personal Habits – hair is undone, unkemptness etc.
A spousal caregiver who is not fully capable, mentally and physically, cannot properly care for their spouse. It is therefore critical that the caregiving spouse remains in the best health possible.
Take timeout for YOU!
Set aside 30 minutes every day for yourself. Do whatever you enjoy, whether it’s reading, gardening, tinkering in your workshop, knitting, playing with the dogs, going to the movies, walking, visiting friends or simply napping.
It is easy to let friendships and other social connections fade away as the responsibilities of caregiving become demanding. Don’t be afraid to talk about your new role as a caregiver. Seek out other caregivers; remember they are going through similar experiences and can likely share some insights to assist you in your role as caregiver. This also provides the care recipient with the opportunity to interact with other people while giving you a well-needed break to socialize, relax or just pamper yourself.
See your Doctor Regularly.
The stress of caregiving can take a toll resulting in illness and/or depression. When you visit your doctor ensure that you inform him/her that you are a caregiver. Make a list of any mental or physical changes that you have noticed about yourself since your last visit, including issues such as changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
When you’re stressed and tired, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising, but exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer…even 30 minutes a day of moderate walking can be beneficial.
You will need nutritious food like fresh fruit, vegetables and lean protein to effectively handle stress. Fast food including caffeine and sugar are easy but will also give you quick crashes and increase your irritability.
Don’t skimp on sleep.
When you skimp on sleep you become irritable, have little energy, and you are less able to cope with stress.
Get yourself a manicure, have a bath, get a massage, buy yourself some flowers, go for a stroll in the park, read a book, take a well-needed nap. You may have to get respite care for your loved one whilst you engage in these activities, but it would be well worth it in the long run. Remember, you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
Say YES to help!
Try to get as many family members involves as possible. Ask family members to assist with bills, errands, groceries, cutting the lawn, etc. Some of the other resources for help include adult day centers, home care services and assisted living facilities.