As we age, there is an increased risk of developing a disabling chronic condition, which often leads half of a married couple to become a spouse-caregiver. According to the National Institute on Aging, 79% of people age 70 and older have at least one of seven chronic conditions, including, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, respiratory diseases, and cancer. The risk of developing other conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or another form of, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease, also increases with age. As these conditions and diseases progress, many people will begin to need assistance with basic daily tasks. For married couples, this usually means one person will become a caregiver to a spouse. A report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that one in 10 caregivers is a married person who looks after their spouse. While caregiving can be rewarding for many individuals, it can also be stressful. According to the American Psychological Association, spouse caregivers experience a 23% higher level of stress hormones, which affects their health and their close relationships. It’s not uncommon for marriages to flounder as roles and responsibilities often change. This change, compounded with the stress of disease, can be overwhelming.
Challenges of Spousal Caregiving
Learning how to take on the role of being a spouse caregiver can take some practice. The Family Caregiver Alliance compiled some of the most common challenges for individuals who are caregivers for their husband or wife. Here are a few things you might expect to experience when caring for your spouse:
Caregiving can be emotionally draining even when done professionally. Caregiving for a spouse brings additional layers of emotional distress, which can lead to mental and emotional exhaustion. It’s common for people patients who experience diseases that affect their quality of life to experience depression. However, studies have suggested that caregivers who attend to a spouse are as equally at much risk of depression as their loved one suffering from a debilitating illness.
Caregiving is a physically demanding role. It can include lifting an individual for bathing and dressing and engaging in more physical activity like walking and standing. This can put a strain on the physical health of a spouse caregiver, especially as they age. In addition, long-term stress and anxiety, which are common in caregivers, can lead to poor quality sleep, increased blood pressure, and unhealthy affect eating habits.
Changes in intimacy
While all marriages experience changes in intimacy at one point or another, a shift in roles — from an established partnership to spouse caregiver, and patient — can influence these changes. Sexual intimacy can also change when a relationship of mutual responsibility becomes more one-sided. Stress, physical challenges, and fatigue that comes from caregiving can cause a loss of sexual interest. However, physical touch and emotional support remain crucial to any healthy relationship.
Loss of balance
Disease and illness can influence every decision within a family structure. As roles within the marriage shift and one takes on new responsibilities, that balance can feel uneven. Juggling friendships and individual interests on top of caregiving can be an added challenge.
Tips for Creating Balance
Becoming a spouse caregiver can create strain in any marriage. However, there are ways to manage these situations. If you’re a caregiver to a spouse, you might consider using these tactics to help you navigate any difficult or challenging situation:
Spousal Caregiving at Maplewood Senior Living
Maplewood Senior Living communities offer additional support for spouse caregivers. Access to 24-hour medical care, support groups, and dining help relieve some of the burdens on caregivers and give couples time to spend together. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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