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Posted: April 27, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

How to Be a Healthy Caregiver

Bill Andrew

Being a caregiver is not an easy job. I know what you are thinking -- saying that to spousal caregivers is like "preaching to the choir." However, we all need to take a "giant step" backward occasionally to examine our personal lifestyle and well-being as caregivers. Without you and me as caregivers, who would be there when our spouses need us? Despite my preconceived notion of being able to continue to do this job without any health problems, I know better -- to paraphrase Forrest Gump, "illness happens!"
Stress is the most common cause of illness among those who care for others -- especially those of us who are specially called to be "spousal caregivers." Often, we have been married for many years and can finish each other's sentences or thought patterns. We have a special bond with each other and illness tends to fracture that bond and cause significant stress. Some stress is good for us and can not be avoided. However, too much stress in any situation is unhealthy for anyone and especially unhealthy for spousal caregivers. Therefore, it behooves us to try to avoid the unhealthy stress whenever and wherever it happens before it causes caregiver illness.
We have written on stress in previous columns. Check out Stress Management Made Easy and A Spousal Caregiver's Self-Assessment on Stress. You may also want to click on the "Spousal Archive" link on the left side of this page for more stress-related discussion. I recently came across some suggestions for determining when stress is indicated. These are not the only symptoms but are typical of what you should be looking for. When experienced on a regular basis, these symptoms should alert you that some serious changes need to be made and you should discuss them with your physician.
  • Exhaustion-- making daily caregiver tasks almost impossible to complete. Not only does your spouse suffer, but you do as well.
  • Social Withdrawal -- isolating yourself from friends and activities that previously brought you enjoyment. You essentially become a hermit and your home a hermitage -- you are "isolated on an island."
  • Anxiety -- dreading facing another day of caregiving and having despairing thoughts on what the future holds. Depression can be next and this does not bode well for either you or your spouse.
  • Sleeplessness -- having a problem in getting asleep at night and waking up frequently during the night. Caused by the never-ending list of concerns over your spouse's needs and requirements.
  • Anger -- being angry at everybody and everything does neither you nor your spouse any good but may do a lot of harm. Anger at your spouse, at others over their lack of support and concern, at the fact that there is no current cure for the disease that is ruining your life and that of your spouse -- these can all cause significant stress.
  • Denial -- denying what is happening to you and your spouse can be a significant cause of stress. Denial about the disease, about your role as a caregiver, about the fact that your spouse has been afflicted by it -- this is another negative cause of stress.
  • Irritability -- being irritated with your spouse and yourself for things that you have no control over. Often little things lead to moodiness that triggers various negative responses and reactions -- stress that you do not need.
  • Depression -- becoming depressed as a result of everyday events that you have no control over. Depression breaks down your spirit and affects your relationships -- with your spouse, with your friends, with your family. All things that you do not need in this situation.
  • Lack of Concentration -- not being able to concentrate on the tasks at hand each day which are critical to the well-being of both you and your spouse. This makes it very difficult to perform even the most basic caregiving tasks -- and who suffers from it -- your spouse.
  • Health Problems -- not feeling up to doing the caregiving job is often the result of caregiver health problems that may still be undiagnosed. For example, being too tired each morning is an indication of not getting enough sleep -- but it also may indicate some other cause. If it affects your personal physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, it may be time for you to see your physician for a checkup.
If you find yourself shaking your head that some -- perhaps all -- of these indications of stress-related symptoms are occurring in your daily life, then it is time to make some drastic changes. Consulting with your physician is an obvious first step. However, you should also consider learning some techniques on how to be a healthy caregiver. There are resources available in your community to help you address the above symptoms. 

Personally, I find that a support group provides me with an exchange of ideas and coping skills that help me to reduce my caregiver-induced stress. Various studies have documented that there are four things that caregivers should consider for themselves to help to reduce this stress:

  1. Respite care
  2. Skill development
  3. Information and education
  4. Caregiver health and well-being
I have addressed these issues in previous columns and will do so again in future columns. Consider how each of these will help you to reduce your caregiver-induced stress.
I have -- now it is your turn.
Perhaps you have had similar experiences and would like to share them with our readers. If so, e-mail me at
"If you ask me what is the single most important key to longevity,
I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress, and tension.
And if you didn't ask me, I would still have to say it."

George Burns (1896-1996)

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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© 2006 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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