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Posted: December 25, 2008

Spousal Caregiving

"Resolving" to Take Better Care of Yourself in 2009

Bill Andrew

 As we race towards the New Year 2009, many of us are considering our New Year’s resolutions, things we plan to do that we may or may not have done in prior years.  This is especially true of spousal caregivers who often face difficult and diverse choices on behalf of their loved ones.  In my personal case, that means a whole different scenario for me, since 2009 will be the first year in which I will not be a spousal caregiver.  As readers of this column know, my wife of 57 years, Carol, passed away in June after a 14-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. 

Still, I wanted to share some advice that I took to heart a number of years ago that helped me -- and Carol -- survive as well as we did over those 14 years.  As I indicated in a previous column, Carol's neurologist told me that what I was doing for both Carol and myself probably added five years to her life -- years that were some of the finest years of my married life.  I considered being a spousal caregiver as a "ministry" given to me by God.  Some of what I took to heart in that vein follows. 

Being a caregiver for a loved one -- especially a spouse -- is considered the most difficult of all caregiving roles.  I know because I did it for 14 years!  Family caregivers are often on duty 24/7, taking care of a loved one.  Of course, the level of care is dependent upon the illness, disability, or age of the loved one.  The stress and strain of providing this level of care can be very burdensome, especially if you have health and medical needs of your own.  Therefore, it is very important that you take care of yourself by getting enough rest and sleep, taking a break from your daily routine, taking some time off for yourself, and getting respite care for yourself.  

If you are like many other family caregivers, you probably do not take good enough care of yourself and end up exhausted, depressed, and, perhaps, even physically disabled.  Consequently, you become a less effective caregiver -- and you may end up needing care yourself.  The bottom line is this: taking care of yourself means that you will be a better caregiver for your loved one. 

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider as we enter this New Year 2009, all from my own personal experience as Carol’s caregiver: 

  • Don't be a martyr.  You may consider yourself to be a very competent caregiver; I know that I did personally.  However, you can not do everything by yourself, and I learned that the hard way.  If you are still trying to do everything by yourself, reconsider now!  You are not doing yourself or your loved one any good if you are constantly impatient, tired, angry, and feel alone.  The sooner that you get help, the better caregiver you will be.  It worked for me.
  • Have a backup plan in place.  Perhaps that backup can be a family member, friend, or neighbor who can help on a regular basis.  While this is often easier said than done, it is critical for both your own health as well as that of your loved one.  Even once or twice a week for several hours would benefit you personally.  It worked for me.
  • Check out home care, elderly, and welfare service agencies.  Such agencies are available in your community.  If you have any questions, contact the local Area Agency on Aging which funds such services at www.n4a.org (800-677-1116) or other related agencies in your community.  You may qualify for low-cost or free services that provide companion care and homemaking services -- a real benefit for family caregivers!  It worked for me.
  • Check into the availability of adult day care.  Your community may provide free or low-cost adult day care programs for the elderly who are able to leave their homes.  Various options are available.  This is an ideal way for caregivers to get away by themselves for a while, or to continue working.  It worked for me for a while.
  • Check into the availability of respite care.  Respite care is defined as temporary relief for caregivers and their families -- who are caring for loved ones with disabilities, chronic illness, or terminal illness -- as well as for elderly who can not be left alone.  Check with the agencies above.  This definitely worked for me and was a real lifesaver! 

These suggestions can be incorporated with your other New Year’s resolutions.  If you have not made your New Year’s resolutions as you read this, it is not too late.  Chances are that, at many times in your life, you have made New Year’s resolutions -- and broken some, if not all of them, before the end of January.  Each day is a new day to resolve to make life as pleasant as possible for loved ones.  Why not consider the above as a "starter set" that you can build upon, especially if you have not considered these suggestions to help you help your loved one.  Help is available for family caregivers; you just have to know where and how to ask for it.   

As for 2009, watch for changes in the theme for my columns now that I am no longer a "spousal" family caregiver. More on that in the new year.  

Happy New Year!  May God bless you and your loved one. 

Please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com with your comments and/or reactions.  I will include them in a future column with your permission.  Please provide your full name and address.  In the column, I will only use your first name and the initial of your last name as well as your city and state.  Thank you. 

WORDS TO CARE BY . . . 

". . . we will continue to fulfill the vows we have made . . .

keep your vows, carry out your resolutions." 

Jeremiah 44:25 (NAB)


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 ASKBill@caregivershome.com.

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