Caregiving for a Spouse: How to Take Care of Yourself While Facing the Changes and Challenges of this New Role
Life can present us with situations where we find ourselves caring for our spouse in different ways than we anticipated when getting married. If you’ve recently found yourself in a caregiver role, it’s important to realistically evaluate the challenges involved while brainstorming ideas for reducing stress and preventing burnout.
The emotional toll of caregiving
Research has shown caregivers often suffer higher levels of depression than those they are caring for. This can happen for a number of reasons. Often the spouse being cared for has lost the ability to connect cognitively or intimately as they once did. This change in dynamic can be incredibly painful to their spouse, who may mourn the loss of their partner.
While couples might have historically cooked or cleaned for one another, caregiving can extend to also helping the person get dressed, use the bathroom, and eat their meals. With diagnosis like dementia, caregivers may feel they have lost a person they once knew so well even though they still see the person daily. This extra level of support can make a person feel more like a caretaker than a spouse, which can then lead to feelings of guilt.
Importance of self-care
Self-care remains a critical component of any caregiving role. If you are not properly cared for, it will be difficult for you to care properly. Examples of good self care include eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest, finding time away from caregiving, and continuing to pursue hobbies and activities that interest you.
One important and often overlooked aspect includes arranging to spend time apart from your spouse. If this is difficult to organize, you can plan to have a friend keep your spouse company while you are away. This will give the both of you something to talk about when you return, and will give you a renewed sense of connection with other people in your life. No marriage is healthy without space away from one another, and this remains especially true when you become a caregiver to your spouse.
Signs of Burnout
Caregiving carries with it a certain level of stress, but when is that stress tipping into burnout? Caregiver burnout occurs when the caregiver falls into a state of emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion as a result of their role as caregiver. This can happen without proper self-care and can leave the caregiver unable to care for their spouse until they seek help. Often caregivers with burnout suffer depression, fatigue, and anxiety.
Some common signs of burnout include:
Self-neglect: Are you not taking proper care of yourself because you are too tired from caregiving? Have family or friends pointed out areas of your life you have been forgetting since taking on a caregiver role?
Change in attitude: How is your attitude toward the role of caregiving? If what was once done out of love now contains aspects of resentment or guilt, then it’s a good time to evaluate if your needs are being met. Are you taking the time to meet your own needs, or are they being sacrificed for your role as caregiver?
If you find you are beginning to show those signs, then it’s a good time to re-evaluate your caregiving plan and look for areas that could use more support.
Resources to help
Once common route is to research local and community resources nearby that help with caregiving. Are there any adult assistance programs near you that you can utilize to take the burden off yourself- these could be financial or it could be having meals delivered to your home. Social services are always worth looking into.
Family and friends: Reach out to family and friends and ask for help if needed, even if that includes someone to visit with your spouse for a few hours so you can go shopping by yourself or get a good nap. You shouldn’t have to do everything alone.
Join a support group or get a counselor: Both can help establish a sense of normalcy and give an outlet to discuss feelings. It’s important to maintain connections with other adults, especially if your spouse suffers from dementia or other challenges where a sense of connection has been lost. Support groups can be extremely helpful toward navigating the array of feelings that might come up.
Seek professional help: Hiring a cleaner to help keep the house tidy, or hiring a nurse or part time caregiver can greatly ease the burden of the caregiver spouse.
In some cases, more assistance might be needed.
Consider assisted living for future care: Assisted living communities can be immensely helpful in situations where caregiving has become stressful and difficult to navigate. This change in dynamic can be wonderful for spouses looking to enjoy quality time with their loved one without the added stress of full time caregiving.
Lastly, remember what is possible, maintain a sense of humor, and focus on the positive. You are doing an important role in your spouse’s life and you deserve to honor yourself for this commitment. Enjoy the time you have with your partner just as they enjoy their time with you.