Spousal caregiving poses unique challenges

. October 3, 2014.
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Illustration by Aoron Covret

by Michael Siebenaler

Caregivers must always manage some level of stress, but spousal caregiving can overwhelm the mind and body. The spousal caregiver is “on call” 24/7 and the strong personal connection adds more difficult dynamics and emotions.

Muscles get tense. The mind “locks down.” Studies, resources, and faith-based activities can help caregivers cope with stress and anxiety, finding the strength and skills to help their spouse.

Spousal caregiving can create key changes in the emotional, mental, financial and physical areas of a relationship, especially when set in a home-based environment. Careful planning and discussions can save resources, time, money and well being.

You can say ‘no’

Do not be afraid to say no when activities and projects seem overwhelming. Delegate the tasks that do not require detailed decision-making. Outside sources and services (including volunteers) can provide help in the areas of housework, yard work, packing, moving, decorating and counseling.

Challenges in health, relationships, and finances cannot always be controlled, so it’s important to plan for stress by maintaining good health for everyone involved.

When you have problems or perform badly, sleep and stress are often at the front of the list of causes. The basic factors that affect your sleep include activity levels, drugs, hormones, emotions, personal health, nutrition, and stress. If you take time to address these factors, you can enhance your life and those of others’.

Initiate an action plan and stick with it. Try to observe and document everything you are required to do. Write down your goals and find necessary assistance from various media, books and people.

List your resources

Make a list of resources when you’re not sure if you can achieve your goals by yourself. Remember that special programs or community groups can offer helpful assistance.

Key choices to be made include advance care directives, future preferences, legal designations and resuscitation directives. Also, look for warning signs in the caregiving realm, especially possible neglect or abuse. These signs include frequent crying, unexplained injuries, weight loss, bad hygiene, deteriorating living conditions, confusion or excessive sleeping.

And there are signs that the pressure on caregivers will continue. According to national statistics, there were 7.2 middle-aged caregivers for every 80-year-old person in 2010. By 2050, this average amount will drop to approximately 2.9.

Many experts are looking to automated devices to bridge the gap in caregiving assistance. These devices will take an increasing role to ease spousal caregiving. Examples include wireless monitoring devices with special sensors to detect movement and devices that report activity patterns through a website accessed securely by caregivers, family members, etc.

Communication and caring are important keys to spousal caregiving, so don’t be afraid to assess your situation, and ask for assistance from trustworthy sources when needed.

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