Spousal Family Caregivers
by Rita Ude
For many couples, the “in sickness and in health” marriage vow plays out later in life with one of the spouses caring for the other. Perhaps an older spouse faces a chronic medical condition like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease or is recovering from a stroke or undergoing cancer treatment. Whenever an elderly husband or wife takes on a greater care role for the other spouse, a number of physical, emotional and financial challenges can occur.
Studies have shown that the health of spousal caregivers is at risk when caring for their partner. The stress of caregiving increases the occurrence of depression and anxiety and lowers the immune system. A 2005 health insurance study found that caregivers of all ages exhibited chronic health conditions, including diabetes, cancer and heart disease, nearly twice as often as non-caregivers (45 percent vs. 24 percent).
Older caregiving spouses are often hesitant to let adult children or others help because they don’t want their children to see their parent in a diminished state or hope to protect their partner’s dignity. But to ensure the well-being of both older spouses, it is important to recognize caregiving obstacles upfront and enlist adequate help throughout the caregiving process. Even if other relatives and close friends can offer hands-on support, senior caregivers also can turn to a number of helpful resources, including:
- Area Agencies on Aging – The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging responds to the needs of Americans 60 years and older in every local community.
- Administration on Aging – The government agency coordinates home and community-based services for the elderly, such as home-delivered meals, transportation and adult daycare.
- Right at Home – The growing network of elder care professionals offers personal and compassionate in-home care assistance to seniors and their spousal and family caregivers.
If you are a spousal caregiver or you know an aging loved one who is, would you like to share your advice for maintaining overall health and well-being?