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Posted: December 01, 2005

Spousal Caregiving

Are You Hitting Caregiver 'Home Runs'?

Bill Andrew

Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player of years ago, has been quoted as saying, "I have only one superstition. I touch all the bases when I hit a home run." The "Sultan of Swat" hit more home runs than his contemporaries -- a record that held for many years. Do you "touch all the bases" when you provide care for your loved one? Do you hit "home runs" each and every day for your spouse? I know that I do -- or, at least, I try to.

For those of you not familiar with the game of baseball, let me provide a quick overview of the game which is played on a "diamond" -- so named for the shape of the playing field. The batter, who is supposed to hit the baseball with a "bat," stands at "home base" (also called home plate). The pitcher stands at the pitcher's mound and pitches (throws) the ball so that it crosses the plate in front of the batter. A "strike" is called if the ball crosses the plate in a designated area (the "strike zone") and the batter does not try to hit the ball -- or if the batter tries to hit the ball and misses. A "ball" is called if the ball is outside the designated "strike" area when thrown to the plate. Three strikes and you are out. Four balls and you take first base.

If the batter hits the ball, he has four opportunities to "make a play." His objective is to run to "first base" and reach there before the ball is thrown back to the opposing team player at first base. If he reaches first base before the ball does, he is "safe." If the batter hits the ball farther, he can reach "second base" or "third base." If the batter hits the ball "over the fence," he has hit a "home run" -- so-called since he can "run home" by circling the bases and "touching each base" as he does. Touching each base is critical if the batter is to be "safe" upon reaching the base or if his home run is considered legal according to the rules of the game. The object of the game is to score more runs than your opponent -- which, in our case, is our spouse's illness.

Therefore, the question you should ask yourself is, "What bases should I be touching in order to hit a home run each and every day for my spouse -- or at least, to score as many runs as I can?" As with most things in life, you may not score a home run but you can hit "singles" (first base), "doubles" (second base), or "triples" (third base) successively during the day and "score runs" by reaching home -- essentially, scoring a home run.

Consider the following from a spousal caregiver’s point of view:

First Base. I consider education the very first thing that you should do as a spousal caregiver -- that is, getting to "first base." You can hit many "singles" during the day and score runs that will help you to be a better spousal caregiver. The more that you know about your spouse's illness, the better you can help your loved one. The more that you know about being a caregiver, the better you can help both yourself AND your loved one. I have discussed this subject several times over the past year -- most recently in Caregiver Education and Support: What Is Your Score? I have learned much about my spouse's Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, as well as treatment protocols, through reading, attending educational sessions, and researching on the Internet.

Second Base. Caregiver support is the second thing you should do as a spousal caregiver -- that is, in essence, reaching "second base." I look at support from two perspectives -- respite support and support groups. Respite support is provided by others in order to relieve the spousal caregiver. For example, sitting with your spouse while you run errands or take some personal time for yourself such as shopping, taking in a movie, playing golf, etc. Support groups are critical to the well-being of many caregivers -- at least, I have found it so. In a support group, you are "sharing and caring" with your caregiver peers. I have learned much through participation in support groups -- both as a participant and as a facilitator (refer to above link). And so will you.

Third Base. With caregiver education and support under our belt, I consider "tender loving care" (TLC) to be the result of stretching your effort to reach "third base." You can deliver TLC without caregiver education and support -- however, I would personally find it very difficult to do so without the knowledge that comes from education and the respite that comes from support. You could also consider these three "bases" as the three legs of a stool -- without one of the legs, the stool would not be stable and would fall. TLC implies a real commitment to your marriage vows -- at least, it does for me. Does it for you?

Home Base (home plate). The glue that holds all of the above together is our personal faith, prayer, and spirituality. In my personal opinion, I would be failing as a spousal caregiver were it not for this "glue." Prayer was discussed extensively in my column In Caregiving, It's Pray, Hope -- and Don't Worry!. All caregivers -- spousal and non-spousal -- have indicated that prayer is essential, nay, critical, to their success as caregivers. You may not pray a lot during the day, but I will bet that many times you say either aloud or to yourself "God, help me." Many caregivers pray a lot through formal prayer -- both for their loved one and for themselves. I know that I do; do you?

Babe Ruth also said, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run." You have to keep swinging the bat in order to get hits -- hits that will get you to first base, second base, third base, and perhaps even result in a home run. You must score runs in order to beat your opponent -- the illness that afflicts your spouse. That means that you have to keep trying your very best to provide a quality level of care for your spouse. Giving anything less than your best means that your loved one may not be getting the type of care that is needed.

By no means are you limited, as a spousal caregiver, to the above means of scoring "hits" to reach the various bases and to score as many runs as you can. You may even hit a few home runs in the process! There are many other means to score runs -- many of which we have discussed in this column over the past year. Have you tried them? You may want to consider "touching all the bases" -- if you have not already done so -- as well as other bases that facilitate your spousal caregiving activities.

I am hitting "caregiver home runs" each and every day -- at least, I am scoring many runs. Are you?

WORDS TO CARE BY . . .

"Never let the fear of striking out get in your way."

George Herman (Babe) Ruth, Jr. (1895-1948)


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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