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Posted: June 09, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

How to Take Charge of Your Life as a Spousal Caregiver

Bill Andrew

In last week's column, I proposed that you consider a philosophy that deals with only the events of one day -- TODAY.  I called this my "one-day-at-a-time" caregiving philosophy and suggested that you might want to try it -- it works for me as a spousal caregiver and it might work for you.

I would like to expand on that caregiving philosophy today and provide you with some proven methods of making each day count for both you and your spouse.  As spousal caregivers, we too often feel that our lot is hopeless and that we can only do the best that we can for our spouse with the resources available to us.  Obviously, you cannot control everything that happens to you or your spouse.  However, you can make proactive choices about how you are going to deal with the caregiving circumstances that take place in the life of your spouse and yourself.

My charge to you is "TAKE CHARGE!"  Now, how can you do that? 

Accentuate the positive.  One of the most important choices that you can make is how you are going to approach your life as a spousal caregiver from here on out.  Having a positive mental attitude is critical.  We discussed this in detail in our Accentuate the Positive! column.  Essentially, when life hands you a lemon, you have two choices -- you can eat the sour lemon OR you can make it into lemonade!  Personally, I would choose the lemonade approach.  It has been proven in various studies that caregivers who make the lemonade choice inevitably end up happier, healthier, and more capable of proactive action on behalf of their spouses and themselves. 

That's because our attitude impacts our actions.  Therefore, a positive mental attitude results in positive actions for our spouses.  Our inner thoughts can initiate our outward movement -- positive thoughts result in positive actions.  Feeling sorry for ourselves doesn't make things any better nor does being a Pollyanna (a person regarded as being foolishly or blindly optimistic).  Somewhere in between lies the best balance for coping with the reality of spousal caregiving. 

Being a spousal caregiver is never easy -- I know!  However, you can make a conscious proactive choice in how you approach your job as a spousal caregiver.  Your caregiver "glass" is either half full or half empty.  Your decision will set the stage for everything else that you do.  Which will you choose -- the half ful or the half empty glass?

Know Thyself.  This was one of the cardinal principles in the philosophy of both Socrates and his chronicler Plato.  It was an early and emphatic assertion of the importance of self-knowledge in the development of the good life.  Taking charge of your life as a spousal caregiver means that you must be able to recognize your personal strengths and weaknesses. 

We all have them, of course, and they affect what we can successfully do for ourselves and for our spouse -- and what we need help with.  Knowing your personal strengths and weaknesses allows you to establish these boundaries.  This can give you the confidence to know when to say "no" and when to ask for help, things that many spousal caregivers find very hard to do.  I know because I have experienced this myself. 

Being aware of your personal strengths and weaknesses (and they may change as you age) is a very important step in becoming a resourceful spousal caregiver.  Are you a petite woman caring for a heavy-set man?  That will certainly have an impact on how much physical care that you are capable of providing on your own.  Are you naturally curious, always wanting to "check things out," and always wanting to understand things as best you can?  If so, then you will very likely have a much easier time gathering the information that you will need to make caregiving choices.

Be Proactive.  Having a positive mental attitude, knowing yourself, and understanding the circumstances surrounding your life as a spousal caregiver are a good start.  But taking charge of your life shouldn't end there.  There are other actions you can take to become more in control of the situation.  For example, you can either be proactive about the situation -- or you can be reactive regarding the caregiving needs of your spouse.

Being proactive means looking ahead and planning to the extent you can.  It means preventing a crisis from happening rather than letting it happen.  For example, one proactive step we can all take is to make sure we and our spouses have in place all of the legal paperwork that is necessary for making critical medical and end-of-life decisions.  We do not like to deal with these things -- but proactive caregivers make it their business to find a way and to do it.

Proactive spousal caregivers always have a much better chance of addressing each crisis that comes our way.  But being proactive does not come naturally for all of us.  If being proactive is not in your nature, then you need to find a family member or friend who has this trait.  This is especially important if you want to feel somewhat "in charge" of what happens to you and to your spouse.

Be Prepared.  One of the most important things you can do as a spousal caregiver is to find out as much as you can about your spouse's illness or condition.  This means research -- and research can take many forms.  It has been said that "knowledge is power."  Being armed with a comprehensive understanding of what you are dealing with as a caregiver will provide you with a powerful tool for conversing with the various medical professionals taking care of your spouse.  It can transform you from being viewed as a sad-eyed spouse into a resourceful advocate.  Believe me, it really does work -- I have been there and done that!

The Internet (and our website!) is one of our best resources. There you will find a wealth of information on your spouse's illness or condition as well as significant sources of caregiver information.  In addition to our site, I would focus on disease-specific sites, such as the Alzheimer's Association.  For caregiver information, one excellent site is that of the National Family Caregiver Association from which some of the information in this column is derived.  Searching the Web is also an easy task that you can ask a friend or family member to help with -- an easy way to begin to ask for help, thus educating that person and yourself at the same time.

Being prepared through research isn't only about gathering information.  It is also about gaining an understanding of the health/medical-care environments that you will encounter as a spousal caregiver -- Medicare, Medicaid, doctor's offices, the hospital, the emergency room, adult day care centers, nursing homes, etc.  Gaining an understanding of their rules, regulations, and practices will help to put you in control so that you can "take charge" of your spousal caregiving situation.  It will also help you to get the information that you need, and provide you with the respect that you deserve as a caregiver, much more quickly and with less hassle.

Having a positive mental attitude, understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses, being proactive, and being prepared through research are just a few of the ways in which you can "take charge of your life."  It is important for you to recognize that you do have choices and that you can make the ones most likely to support you in your spousal caregiving role.

If you would like to share your spousal caregiving experiences with other readers of this column, please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com.  You can also ask any questions that concern you -- but remember, I can only share my personal experiences with you and can not provide any advice that would require specific licensure.

WORDS TO CARE BY. . .

"Never, never, never give up."

(Winston Churchill)


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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© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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