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Posted: November 09, 2006

Spousal Caregiving

What Does 'Spousal Family Caregiving' Mean To You?

Bill Andrew

As a follow-on to last week's column promoting designation of a national spousal caregiving month, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about what spousal caregiving really means.

Now, of course, as spousal caregivers, we all know what it means to each of us -- dedication, commitment, hard work, stress, and all of the other things that "go with the territory" of spousal family caregiving. However, I think it is especially important during this current National Family Caregivers Month to reflect on the true meaning of caregiving itself.

So, I turned to THE authority on family caregiving -- the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). According to NFCA, family caregiving is the bedrock upon which this country's health care system depends -- and that includes spousal family caregiving. Services provided by family caregivers represent more than 80% of all home care services and are conservatively valued at over $260 billion a year -- more than twice the amount spent on paid home care and nursing home services combined. Family (and spousal) family caregivers provide a vast array of emotional, financial, nursing, social, homemaking, and other services on a daily or intermittent basis.

NFCA educates, supports, and advocates for more than 50 million Americans who care for their loved ones with a chronic illness, disability, or frailty. They reach across the boundaries of diagnoses, relationships, and life stages to address the common needs and concerns of all family caregivers -- including spousal family caregivers.

The NFCA has developed a "caregiving is . . ." checklist to give you an idea of just how diversified and complex family (spousal) caregiving can be:

1. Caregiving is, in and of itself, a multidimensional puzzle. For some, it means 24/7 care for someone who can not dress, feed, go to the bathroom, or think for her/himself. For others, caregiving is an emotional roller coaster because a diagnosed condition has not exhibited debilitating symptoms -- yet.

2. Caregiving is a job that can go on for a few years -- or for a lifetime. It means re-evaluating finances, re-evaluating job opportunities, and making compromises -- many compromises.

3. Caregiving is learning how to work with doctors and other health care professionals so that they treat you as an important and integral member of your loved one's health care team.

4. Caregiving is worrying about what is wrong with Dad or Mom or your spouse. Why are they not remembering things anymore? Why are they acting so strangely lately? And when you hear the diagnosis, your immediate reaction is "why did I ever ask?"

5. Caregiving is learning all about wheelchairs, Hoyer lifts, and various gadgets that help your loved one help themselves.

6. Caregiving is wondering why no one ever asks "how are YOU doing?"

7. Caregiving is dreaming about being alone in your own house.

8. Caregiving is learning all about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other public assistance programs.

9. Caregiving is learning what it means to die with dignity and making sure that your loved one's wishes will be honored.

10. Caregiving is the joy you feel when your child with mental retardation

or a developmental disability learns a new skill.

11. Caregiving is the joy that you feel when your spouse says that he or

she felt good today.

12. Caregiving is hard work.

13. Caregiving is pain.

14. Caregiving is loving and giving and sharing.

15. Caregiving is accepting and learning new things and going on and on

and on.

16. Caregiving is lots of questions and very few answers.

17. Caregiving is often being out of the mainstream.

18. Caregiving is all of these things -- and a whole lot more.

How many of the above rang a bell with you? As a spousal family caregiver, I have experienced all of the above -- have you? Simply put the word "spousal" in front of each of the above and perhaps that will place everything into context. It did for me.

Most of us come to spousal caregiving by default. Something happens to your loved one and you have to deal with it. Most of us never saw it coming, nor did we have time to prepare for the new role. It just happened. Did you have any lessons in how to perform as a spousal family caregiver? I never did, and I doubt that any of you did. Because we love our spouses, we do what we have to do according to our respective abilities. Some are better at it than others.

The question we asked up front was "what does spousal family caregiving mean to you?" Do you take exception to any of the above "caregiving is" statements? Do you agree with some or all of the above "caregiving is" statements? Can you add to the above list of "caregiving is" statements?

I would like to hear from you. Just e-mail me at at your early convenience and let me know if I can use your comments in a future column.


"Give all to love; obey thy heart."

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

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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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