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Posted: July 06, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

One Day at a Time

Bill Andrew

As a caregiver, I’m sure you have developed your own point of view about what you are doing and why you are doing it for your spouse -- at least, you should although you may not formalize it. 
 
My personal caregiving philosophy is "loving is giving -- giving is loving." However, in order to be able to live that philosophy, I have an underlying philosophy -- consider it the foundation of my daily caregiving devotion to my wife of almost 55 years, Carol, who has late-stage Alzheimer's disease. And that underlying philosophy is quite simply "one day at a time."
 
When I awake every morning, I thank God for the privilege of being Carol's caregiver for another day. I also think of the many things that could impact my ability to provide the quality care that she deserves 24 hours each day, seven days each week for as long as God grants me that caregiving privilege. I have written before about accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative influences in my life (see Accentuate the Positive!). 
 
Here are some thoughts to consider -- "one day at a time." 
  • Worry is the most useless thing to do as a caregiver. St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) said it all when he said "pray, hope, and don't worry! Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer." If you worry about your caregiving responsibilities, you will most likely not provide the best quality care that you can for your spouse.
  • Giving is the greatest joy you can experience in your caregiving life. Hence, my motto of "loving is giving -- giving is loving." Because of my love for Carol, I give her what I am capable of giving -- and by giving "my all" to Carol, I am demonstrating (and proving) my undying love for her. To paraphrase the Bible, "give unto others . . . ."
  • Loss of self-respect can be the greatest loss that you can experience. If you do not have self-respect, how can you have any real respect for your spouse and the care you provide for them? You must respect yourself and your ability to be the best possible caregiver for your spouse; your spouse deserves nothing less.
  • Helping others can be the most satisfying work that you could ever imagine. By helping your spouse, you condition yourself to helping others who may have similar needs. For example, because of my personal experience as an Alzheimer's caregiver, I am better able to share these experiences with other caregivers as the facilitator for an Alzheimer's support group that I have led for almost five years.
  • Selfishness can be the ugliest personality trait that you could exhibit as a spousal caregiver. If you are selfish, how can you do your best on behalf of your spouse? The "unselfish" caregiver is the one that gets things done in a timely manner for their spouse. And isn't that why you and I are spousal caregivers -- to get things done! 
  • Dedicated leaders are the most endangered species of humanity. Think about it: you and I may not be leaders, but we certainly depend on those who are! Do not try to be a spousal caregiver on your own without support from dedicated leaders in your community and your personal acquaintances. Learning by yourself -- the hard way -- can often lead to blind alleys or dead ends that may compromise the care you deliver to your spouse. There are many people who are ready, willing, and able to help you, if you just know where to find them and to ask for that help.
  • Encouragement from others can be the greatest shot in the arm for a spousal caregiver -- in fact, for all caregivers. By providing the encouraging word for fellow caregivers, you may well be providing encouragement for yourself, as well. By providing an encouraging word for your spouse, you will be helping them and yourself. If someone compliments you on the great job you are doing as a caregiver, doesn't that make you feel good? Doesn't that also make you want to do a better job for your spouse?
  • Fear can be the greatest problem you must overcome. Fear of failure is often in the forefront of many spousal caregiver minds. "What if I don't do the right thing" is something I often encounter as a question from participants in my support group. My response is that you must be prepared for most any eventuality that could occur while performing your caregiver responsibilities.  And that preparation often depends on learning everything that you can about your spouse's disease/disability. It is also dependent on seeking out various areas of potential support to help you "do the right thing."
  • Peace of mind is often the most effective sleeping pill that you can find. By always "doing the right thing" for your spouse, you should be able to sleep without the aid of medications. I find that prayer is the most effective aid that I can draw upon to assist me throughout my 24/7 caregiving day and to help me to sleep like a baby every night. I have peace of mind because I practice what I preach.
  • Excuses can be the most crippling failure disease for a spousal caregiver. If you tend to find an excuse for not doing what you should be doing, your spouse will suffer. A dedicated caregiver never has excuses -- we should always be "Johnny on the spot" caregivers and perform our duties in a timely and loving manner.
  • Gossipers can be the most dangerous pariah that any spousal caregiver could encounter. Gossipers tend to spread misinformation and typically do not support your personal caregiving efforts. If you have gossiping family, friends, and neighbors, try to "set the record straight" by informing them of your spouse's condition and needs. Let them know of your personal needs and ask them not to distort the actual situation of you and your spouse. This may be a hard thing to do but it will benefit you and your spouse.
  • Your brain is the world's most incredible computer -- think about how complex it is and all the things you can personally do. Perhaps your spouse's brain is compromised by disease, as is my wife's. This makes it even more important to use your brain to the best possible advantage of your spouse. Keeping your brain active is often cited as being one of the critical imperatives to being a great spousal caregiver.
  • Hope is the worst thing in the world to be without. Without hope, what do you have? As Padre Pio said above, "pray, hope, and don't worry!" Hope is an essential tool for all caregivers. We must always hope for the best, especially when it comes to our providing care for our spouses, and not worry about the end results.
  • Our tongues can be deadly weapons, especially when we lash out at our loved ones who can not defend themselves. When our patience is exhausted, we often tend to say things we did not really mean. Sometimes, the tongues of our family, friends, and neighbors can also inflict pain on our loved ones – and us. 
  • "I can" are two of the most power-filled words we can use as spousal caregivers. By having a positive attitude about any caregiving responsibility, we can accomplish anything we put our minds to. 
  • Self-pity is the most worthless emotion a caregiver can have. "Poor me" and "why me?" seem to be the mantras for some spousal caregivers as they solicit pity from their family, friends, and neighbors. The caregiving challenges we have been given, can be overcome, but not by pitying ourselves.
  • Integrity should be considered our most prized possession. Whatever the situation, our integrity as a spousal caregiver is always on the line in whatever we do for our loved one. 
  • Faith is our greatest asset. It has been said that "a little faith can work big miracles." In our caregiving role, we often fail to have faith in our own ability to deliver the quality care our spouses deserve. If we have faith, we can move mountains (or maybe a rubber tree plant!) (See We All Need 'High Hopes' in Our Caregiving.)
  • Smiles are the most beautiful attire we can dress in as we fulfill our spousal caregiving responsibilities. Who wants to see a grumpy face coming at you to feed you, dress you, bathe you, toilet you.  A smiling face will always be better received, and your spouse will be in a better mood as well as you help them.
  • Enthusiasm is the most contagious spirit any spousal caregiver can have. If you don't feel enthusiastic, act enthusiastically and you will find that it grows on you. It works for me every morning, and it will work for you as well. We need to be enthusiastic caregivers and you will find that it really is contagious -- just ask the folks around you.
  • Love is the most powerful force in life. It has been said that "love makes the world go 'round" – and that has to be the love of God for us. Our love of our spouse can also be a powerful force in everything that we do for them. It is important to remember that love is contagious; that is, it will come back to us 100-fold. I often tell people that my caregiving days are the best days of my life because I am demonstrating my total commitment and love for my wife.
  • Prayer is the most powerful channel of communication we caregivers have at our disposal. People often ask how I can do everything that I do given my age (77) and my responsibilities (spousal caregiver) -- including writing this column, facilitating a support group, chairing a family caregiver organization, and still doing some consulting work. I tell them three things -- PRAYER, PRAYER, and PRAYER!
  • God is the most important thing in life. As believers, you know that you were born to die. It will happen to all of us! God is our ultimate destination in life. So it behooves us to live our lives as caregivers in a manner befitting our respect for God as we take care of our "child of God," our spouse. 
How many of these influences apply to you as a spousal caregiver? We should all "accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative" influences that affect our ability to provide quality care for our loved one, our spouses. Anything less than that is a disfavor to our loved one and we will have to answer for our actions in the hereafter!
 
Your comments on the above would be appreciated. Have you been personally impacted by any of these influences? If so, please e-mail me at ASKBill@caregivershome.com
 
WORDS TO CARE BY . . .
 
"This time, like all times, is a very good one,
if we but know what to do with it."
 
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)


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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© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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