Haims: Being a caregiver to your spouse is hard work
Being a caregiver is a selfless act. It means putting the needs of another before your own. Unfortunately, it can be one of the most stressful roles a person takes on in their lifetime.
I marvel at the spouses of some of my clients who assist their loved one with incapacitating ailments. Their dedication, devotion, compassion, and love for their spouse is truly inspirational. After decades of marriage, raising children together and weathering the trials and tribulations of a long life together, watching them give their complete self to their loved one is heartwarming. They inspire me and reassure me that love endures.
Taking care of yourself first
Frequently I see many spouses struggle in learning how to manage and assist their loved one who is becoming less able to care for themselves. If you are currently, or soon may be in a position of having to assist your spouse, you don’t have to break trail yourself — many have walked the walk before you and may be willing to share of themselves and help make your journey easier.
The No. 1 thing a spousal caregiver can do to ensure success is to care for themselves first. Unfortunately, it is often one of the first things people forget to do. Only when you take care of your own health and well-being can you be prepared to help the one you love.
Here are some of the common signs I notice in spouses who may be experiencing challenges while caring for their loved ones:
- Sleep deprivation
- Loss of weight due to poor eating habits
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of socialization
- Postponement of or failure to keep their own medical appointments
If you have become a caregiver for your spouse, it is both normal and common to feel the effects of caregiver stress. That’s why it’s essential to plan your care, too, and to have a plan in place to manage that stress before it results in severe mental and/or physical health issues. In order to take the best care of anyone else, you must first take care of yourself.
Asking for help
The best way to reduce the effects of caregiver stress is to ask for and accept help. Make a list of ways others can help you, and let your family and friends choose what they want to do. One person might volunteer to take your spouse for a walk a couple of times a week while another might offer to pick up groceries for you.
Asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness nor is it an indication that you are incapable of helping your loved one. Caregiving is a huge responsibility that no one should take on by themselves. If you’re caregiving every day, chances are outside observers don’t have a full understanding of what you do.
Here are some suggestions for asking for and receiving assistance:
- Make a list of potential helpers
- Be collaborative with friends/family by brainstorming for possible solutions. This helps people feel involved, proactive and supportive.
- Write down a list of a few things you need help with. Be concise with your needs and concerns (groceries, laundry, appointments, meals).
- Try to match people’s talents with your needs. A person who cooks may be a good person to grocery shop or help with a meal while a very organized person may be a good person to help with medical appointments and errands.
- Keep cash on hand to reimburse people for purchases they may buy for you.
- Say thanks. Expressing your gratitude is often all a friend or family member needs to feel appreciated.
Once help is in place it’s vital that you take proper care of yourself. Make time each week to do something that you enjoy. Try to find time to be physically active each day, eat a healthy diet, and get enough sleep. Get regular checkups from your physician, let him or her know that you are a caregiver, and be sure to share any symptoms of depression or sickness you may be having. And stay in touch with family and friends.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.