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Posted: January 18, 2007

Spousal Caregiving

Minimizing Stress on Spousal Caregivers

Bill Andrew

As we enter this New Year of 2007, I would like to expand on the potential impact of stress on caregivers. In the previous column Six Ways to Get Rid of Stress, I discussed various approaches that have been used successfully to get rid of stress. In this column, I would like to suggest various signs that indicate if spousal caregiving may be becoming too risky for you.

I found these suggested indicators on the website provided by Home Instead Senior Care. This website is dedicated to helping caregivers find ways to cope with caregiver stress. The objective is to make your caregiving role more rewarding since a caregiver who takes care of themselves will ultimately be a better caregiver for their loved one.

According to various studies, spousal caregiving is probably the riskiest type of caregiving since it is typically done for an elderly spouse with whom the caregiver has had a long-term relationship. In fact, the Journal of American Medical Association reported in a prior issue that if you are a spousal caregiver between the ages of 66 and 96, and if you are experiencing ongoing mental or emotional strain as a result of your caregiving duties, there is a 63% increased risk of dying as compared to other people in the same age group who are not caring for a spouse.

The article further states that the combination of loss, prolonged stress, the physical demands of caregiving, and the personal health vulnerabilities that typically come with age place an elderly spousal caregiver in the danger zone.

On our wedding day, we made the vow ". . . in sickness and in health," so we probably didn’t think twice about caring for our spouses when they needed our assistance. Regardless of the chronic health problem, disability, illness, or other health issue, your support for your loved one as a spousal caregiver goes without saying. This is a natural reaction in a loving situation; however, it is important to note that spousal caregiving can lead to significant changes in your marital relationship.

As a spousal caregiver, I’m sure that on occasion you feel overwhelmed and stressed out by the various caregiving duties you have undertaken. This is especially important if the spousal caregiver is now performing responsibilities that were once handled solely by the care-recipient spouse. Activities such as cooking, housework, laundry, reconciling the checkbook, making financial decisions, yard work, etc. are now the responsibility of the caregiving spouse without much help, if any, from the care-recipient spouse.

In addition, there can also be a sense of loss, especially if your spouse suffers from Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. I know: my wife of almost 56 years, Carol, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. We were "partners" in everything that we did. Now, however, I do it all. The spousal caregiver tends to feel isolated from family and friends and perhaps even feels guilt about our own personal unmet needs. By taking on this "labor of love," we often compromise our own health for the sake of our loved one, putting our own personal health at risk.

Here are some indicators that your caregiving responsibilities may be placing you at risk for your own health, perhaps even an early death. I am quoting directly from the website.

Missing or delaying your own doctor appointments

Ignoring your own health problems or symptoms

Not eating a healthy diet for lack of time

Overusing tobacco and alcohol when you feel stressed

Giving up exercise habits for lack of time

Losing sleep

Losing connections with friend for lack of time to socialize

Bottling up feelings of anger and frustration -- and then being surprised by angry, even violent, outbursts directed at your spouse, other family members, co-workers -- even strangers

Feeling sad, down, depressed, or hopeless

Loss of energy

Lacking interest in things that used to give you (and your spouse) pleasure

Feeling resentful toward your spouse

Blaming your spouse for the situation

Feeling that people ask more of you than they should

Feeling like caregiving has affected family relationships in a negative way

Feeling annoyed by other family members who don't help our or who criticize your care

Have you experienced any of these indicators? I know that I have. What are you going to do about them? I know what I did.

Caregivers who experience elevated levels of stress are definitely at an increased risk for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health problems. Thus, it is essential that the spousal caregiver seek out support. Even the most capable caregiver needs to ask for help on occasion -- from family members, friends, clergy, physicians, other professionals, and other sources. Often, the hardest part for many caregivers is knowing when to ask and whom to ask. Asking for help is perceived by many as a sign of weakness and lack of ability to handle the situation. The truth is, your spouse will be in better hands if you are healthy. Thus, it goes without saying, that it is important for you, as a spousal caregiver, to take care of yourself while taking care of your loved one.

If you have any comments or thoughts about the above, drop me a line at and I will share them with other readers in a future column.


"God doesn't require us to succeed;

He only requires that you try."

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-97)

Bill Andrew identifies himself as a former “nutritionally-empowered Alzheimer’s caregiver” who attributes the slow-down in progression of Alzheimer’s disease in his wife, Carol – and the growth of his own personal emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual capability and strength to provide quality 24/7 care for her in their own home – to the targeted nutritional supplements they both took on a daily basis. Carol went to her Heavenly reward on June 9, 2008 – Bill continues on to advocate for family caregivers. Contact Bill with your caregiving questions and comments via email at

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