Providing Care and Support for a Spouse

by Lois Etienne on September 1, 2010

in Caregiver Support

The care of a spouse surely has its rewards. One advantage is that the partner who is need of care or assistance is already comfortable with the caregiver. You know each other’s idiosyncrasies, habits and preferences. You also know each other intimately so it eases Washington Senior Coupleany embarrassment when dealing with private needs. You also know the home environment and what areas might be in question when it comes to safety issues.

On the down side, however, the caregiving spouse may feel odd about asking others for much needed help, fearing their loved one will be embarrassed or uncomfortable if anyone else provides care or knows that they need this care.

Spousal caregivers often feel so much stress since they also live with the person they are caring for, which doesn’t provide for any breaks physically or emotionally. “It is important that the spouse continue to do some of the activities she or he likes, whether it is singing in the church choir or going to the monthly book club meeting, so that he or she continues to socialize outside of the home and give themselves a breather,” advises Richard Schulz, Ph.D., caregiver stress expert at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It is important that, as a caregiver of a spouse, you don’t assume you can handle everything,” said Dr. Schulz. “In a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we found that spousal caregivers who experienced mental or emotional strain were more likely to die sooner than non-caregivers. Sometimes even the most resourceful person needs to ask for help from other family members or outside professionals – the hard part is knowing when to ask.”

In order to help you understand when the stress might be getting to be too much for you, we’ve created a list of signs that spousal caregiving may be becoming too risky for you.

In the end, it is important that as a caregiver, you maintain your own health, because if you aren’t well, you will be less able to help your spouse.

For more information or to get answers to your questions, please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office.  We can be reached — anytime day or night – by calling Spokane509.835.5898North King/Snohomish Counties425.670.2292 or South King/Pierce Counties253.943.1603You can also email us at

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda R. November 20, 2010 at 3:39 am

After watching my Mother struggle to care for my father (her husband of 60+ yrs) Had I known the results of her exhaustion and fatigue, things would have been very different! Yet, Blind as we are to these situations, Me nor any of my 6 other siblings recognized the severity of her overwhelmed state, until that day! My father who was suffering from spinal stenosis, COPD, and many other health problems was in need of constant care. On Dec. 6th 2007 my Mother was driving to her volunteer job with the local food bank, she fell asleep at the wheel and flipped her car end over end, landing upside down in a ditch, just feet from a cement brick wall… Taken to the hospital where they examined her and sent her home with pain pills and muscle relaxers, she spent 8 days laying on the couch in horrible pain. With my encouragement, the Dr. ordered an MRI, On Dec. 14th (at the same time my father had an appointment with an oncologist), My father was told that day that he had terminal cancer and to go home to prepare to die) My Mother was phoned on the trip home saying pull over wait for the ambulance to get you, your neck is broken, you could die if you move… Taken by ambulance to Harborview hospital with a double back surgery (neck and lower lumbar) on Friday the 15th of Dec. Hospice came to help my Father with this stage of his life, on Sat. the 16th of Dec. On Monday Dec. 18th we brought my Mother home from the hospital to recover in their livingroom where we now had two hospital beds and round the clock care for both of them! My father passed away just over 5 weeks later. Don’t let this be you! We need to help those family caregivers, they do not realize what is at stake!


Lois Etienne November 20, 2010 at 4:47 pm

This is truly one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard and I’m so sorry for your situation. It’s true that we are a society that does NOT want to prepare, talk about or even think about what troubles others are going through until a crisis happens. I believe that as baby boomers, we need to arm ourselves with as much education about the most common problems for our mothers and fathers BEFORE crisis mode hits. That’s the purpose of our blog and we hope you continue to find it helpful.


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