So you’ve promised “in sickness and in health,” but whose health? One new poll shows
that being the caregiver to an ill spouse carries more stress than caring for a mom, dad
or even your in-laws.
Although Americans 40 and older state that they are concerned about chronic illness
and losing their independence they believe 1) they can count on their families to care for
them and 2) that the costs will be covered by Medicare even though, as the poll found,
that half of these Americans have been caregivers to relatives or friends.
Amazingly, especially to those of us who have already cared for chronically ill family and
“preach” the importance of arranging for long-term care insurance while one is eligible,
find that neither the graying population nor the loved ones who expect to help them are
doing much planning for long-term care. Only 41 percent of this population has taken
the important first step of even discussing their preferences for long-term care with their
families and only 35 percent have set aside money to pay for their long-term care needs.
The well-known misperceptions surrounding the costs of long-term care services are
that a major portion of the population underestimate the costs of nursing home and/or
at-home care and overestimate the role of Medicare in paying for that care.
If you are, or become ill, how do you plan on being cared for? By whom, where, who will
cover the costs, etc.? Will this be the person who promised “In sickness or in health?”
Does one truly understand the meaning of the words “In sickness and in health, for
richer or for poorer, for better or for worse,” saying them when you’re high on love, you’re
generally healthy, and the dream of your fabulous life together is in front of you? The
meanings of these words are pretty much lost, even when you ponder them.
In a spousal/partnership situation, the relationship changes when one of them gets
chronically ill. Even when the possibilities of how care will be handled has been
discussed. Essentially the well spouse/partner leaves the role of intimate husband, wife
and/or partner and takes on the role of carer in a more medical or nurse-like sense.
Often, the addition of this new role carries with it stress, frustration, loneliness and,
at times, anger. That’s not to say that caregiving cannot or doesn’t strengthen the
Typically caregiving starts with driving a loved one to the doctor or helping with
household or other chores that were once handled by the ill spouse. From there the
care progresses to hands-on care, such as bathing, dressing, feeding, toileting, timing
and dispensing medications, helping with ambulating and more. Increasingly the well
spouse/partner is handling tasks that were once left to nurses.
More and more families are facing the responsibilities of caregiving. And not
addressed in too many poles and or articles, in the Parkinson’s world this is no longer
relegated to the greying or older generations: Government figures show nearly 7 in 10
Americans will need long-term care at some point after they reach age 65. Amazingly,
only 20 percent (1.5 to 2 out of 10) of those surveyed think it is likely they will need
such care someday. And yet, on the other hand, 39 percent are profoundly concerned
about burdening their families.
Only 30 percent of people polled say they believe they will likely care for a loved
one in the next five years and feel prepared to do so.
It has been documented that women tend to live longer than men and are
subsequently the greatest majority of family caregivers; the poll found that 41 percent have assisted a mother, 17 percent have cared for a father, and 14 percent have cared for a spouse or partner.
Of note is the stress on the sandwich generation—middle-aged people caring for both children and older parents, often while holding down a job—It has been well-documented, and the new poll found half of all caregivers report the experience caused stress in the family.
But spouses were most likely to report that stress and have stated that caregiving damaged their relationship with their partner and deeply reduced their finances.
While the hope is that family members will take on some of the caregiving tasks, spouses are more likely to handle most of the complex care tasks, and are on duty 24-7 with far less help from family and friends than they had hoped for.
Taking on the complex caregiving tasks is physically harder when considering that most
spouse caregivers tend to be older. The average age of spouse caregivers polled was 67, compared with people who’ve cared for a parent at an average age of 58.
One 79 year-old woman who cared for her husband for nearly five years while he suffered dementia and Parkinson’s syndrome, care that eventually required feeding, dressing and diapering him said,“I think I loved him more after I started caring for him. I saw what a wonderful person he was: his (positive) attitude, his kindness, his acceptance of things.” But he lived his last 11 months in a nursing home because “I couldn’t handle him anymore. He
was too big for me. He was as helpless as a baby.”
To help cope with Caregiver Stress consider the
♥ Attend Caregiver Support group meetings;
♥ Keep a positive attitude. Believe in yourself;
♥ Accept that there are events you cannot control;
♥ Learn to relax;
♥ Exercise regularly. Your body can fight stress better
when it is fit;
♥ Limit yourself to moderate alcohol and caffeine
♥ Set realistic goals and expectations;
♥ Get enough rest and sleep;
♥ Learn to use stress management techniques and
coping mechanisms, such as deep breathing or
♥ If necessary consult a mental therapist.