As more and more Baby Boomers enter their senior years, and we as a society are living longer, it’s more and more likely that, if you’re married, either you or your spouse will end up as caregiver for the other. While it’s not unusual for adult children or other close family members to become caregivers, it’s most common that spouses will care for each other as they age.
“Caregiving can mean anything from simple assistance with medication management and transportation, or it can be as intensive as providing in-home care for a spouse who has been diagnosed with dementia,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “Whether your caregiving assistance is a little or a lot, there’s no avoiding the fact that it will affect your relationship in some way.”
This, she says, can be a difficult transition for both spouses. “There are many changes that take place in relationships when one spouse begins caring for another, no matter how independent that spouse may be,” she says. “Oftentimes what starts off as just a little help can snowball into more and more assistance, which is taxing for anyone. It’s very easy for caregiving to take over the bulk of your relationship, leading to stress, depression and overall burnout.”
According to a 2015 AARP study titled Caregiving for Older Adults, approximately 3.7 million seniors in the U.S. are spousal caregivers. The report also states that 40 percent of spousal caregivers report their role as highly stressful. “Caregiving for a spouse has unique challenges and can get in the way of intimacy and foster an awkward sense of dependency,” says Andrea. “Fortunately, if you and your spouse take the time to look at your situation with clear eyes, make some plans and adjust accordingly, the transition doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly difficult.”
Tips for Adjusting to the Spousal Caregiver Role
If you find yourself in a situation where you will be a caregiver for your spouse, here are some tips for helping to make the transition a little smoother.
Reach out to other spousal caregivers.
The best advice and tips you can get are from people who have gone through the same experience you’re facing. Ask your friends and search online for those you know who have either served as a primary caregiver for their spouse, or for someone who has had to act as a caregiver for a time. Having someone you know who can provide firsthand experience will be invaluable, and he or she can also be a source of support in the coming days.
Give yourself time to grieve and adjust.
Many spousal caregivers can feel guilty about their emotions as they adjust to their new normal. It’s common to feel overwhelmed, stressed, angry and even like you’ve suffered a great loss. Understand that your feelings are valid and it’s completely natural to have these reactions. You and your spouse are undergoing a huge change that more than likely has upset your plans for the future in some way. Remember to give yourself grace, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others to talk about how you’re feeling. At the same time, don’t forget the importance of sharing and communicating with your spouse. Although you may not feel like you can “burden” your spouse with your feelings, remember that you two are still a team, and sharing your thoughts, fears and emotions in a healthy way are one of the best ways to grow and nurture your relationship.
Plan for the future.
Becoming a spousal caregiver is a life-changing journey, especially if your spouse has a chronic illness like dementia. It’s not always fun to think about, but you will need to sit down with your spouse and other appropriate parties to make a plan for the future. When you, the spousal caregiver, get older and need assistance of your own, how will you and your spouse handle that? Are there others in your family who can step up from time to time to give you the space and relief you need? Do you and your spouse wish to stay at home, or would it make more sense to move to a community where health needs and issues can be more easily accommodated? By making plans early on, you and your loved one can make the future less scary and give you both peace of mind.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
We promise to be there for our spouse “in sickness and in health,” so it’s no surprise that so many spousal caregivers feel like they have to do everything themselves. However, this is a recipe for burnout and exhaustion. After all, even professional caregivers get time off. It’s important for you to ask for help, and ask often, so that you don’t get caregiver burnout. You may be amazed at how many friends and family members will jump at the chance to help, especially if you ask them to do specific tasks, like picking up medications, going grocery shopping or sitting with your spouse for a few hours every week. Be clear, be direct and don’t be offended or disheartened if people say no. You can also look into community resources, like in-home caregivers or local organizations that offer caregiving services.
Be kind to yourself and to your spouse.
Both you and your spouse are undergoing a life change, and with it will come growing pains. There will be times when you’re angry, tired, stressed and snippy with each other. Be as patient as possible with your spouse and yourself. Be sure to give yourself (and your spouse) space to be alone and do things that are important to you. Get enough exercise, eat right and find something to do for yourself every day to de-stress.
Remember to spend time as a married couple.
It’s easy to focus on the caregiving role so much that the relationship – your marriage – gets pushed to the side. This leads to loneliness, resentment and feelings of isolation. Remember that, above all, you and your spouse are married and that relationship needs to take precedence over everything else. Schedule regular times to nurture your relationship and do things you love to do together. Go on evening walks, or dance in the living room to your favorite songs. Have a date night in with your favorite takeout and an old movie, or cook a romantic meal together. You may need to adapt your activities to reflect your loved one’s abilities, but that’s okay. The quality time that you spend together as a couple will help sustain and grow your relationship in ways you never thought possible before.
For more information about adjusting to the role of a spousal caregiver, or to learn more about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.
Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care
Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.