More than 40 million women are primary caregivers for an aging loved one, many times to the man they are married to. Since caregiving is still viewed as the wife’s expected role, most accept it as their duty and a time to express love, settle financial and legal matters and sometimes, right past wrongs.
However, women who are primary caregivers face far more unglamorous duties and disruptions in their work, social life, sleep habits, exercise routine, household management and financial situation. In addition to a loss of intimacy, the wife may be stuck with such unglamorous tasks as cleaning up bathroom accidents, servicing medical equipment and fulfilling challenging dietary needs.
As one expert put it, for some wives, caregiving is “a roller coaster ride from hell,” with each day bringing new challenges, demands and adjustments. What others see as a gift, the wife may be experiencing as “a dirty little secret,” Diana B. Denholm wrote in The Caregiving Wife’s Handbook, recently published by Hunter House. She also states that the challenge is especially difficult when the marriage was a rocky one to begin with. Husbands who were abusive when they were healthy can become tyrants when seriously or terminally ill, she learned from wives.
In her book, Dr. Denholm discusses coping strategies that she developed with her husband during his long illness. “The most important of these strategies is to adopt communication tools that avoid red flags, accusations and self-pity, and instead “create expectations, agreements and understandings, including some that may involve agreeing to disagree,” she said. She also provides a list of 50 dos and don’t to help make the task of caregiving easier.
Here is a sampling from that list:
• Don’t let your husband take advantage of you or be abusive in any way.
• Ask for help when you need it.
• Don’t assume roles and jobs just because somebody thinks you should.
• Recognize that he’s the one who is ill, not you, and that your journeys will be different.
• Realize that sacrificing yourself completely will not make him well.
• Speak up for yourself and take a hard line on safety issues.
• See the humor in situations and try to laugh rather than criticize.
• Learn relaxation techniques.
• Give your husband a whistle, bell or call button to help him call you.
• Take advantage of the time remaining and have fun with your husband however you can.
• Have fun yourself, even if he can’t participate.
• Stay active and social, and spend time with people who make you feel better.
• Take care of yourself by eating well, exercising and arranging a way to get needed sleep.
• Take breaks and trips to visit friends, offering your husband care alternatives during your absence.
• Get help if you become depressed, feel excessively guilty or angry, or fear becoming abusive toward your husband.
• Protect yourself physically. Don’t try to catch your husband if he’s falling. If you are injured, you won’t be able to care for him.
If you are the primary caregiver for a family member or other loved one and find that you are experiencing symptoms of depression, dissatisfaction, decreased energy or lower resistance to illness you may be experiencing what is known as “Caregiver Burnout”. It’s equally as important to protect your health and wellbeing so that you can provide the best care possible to the one you are looking after.
We are hosting a free, public webinar on caregiver burnout and how to protect your health on Tuesday, May 1st at 11am Pacific, 2pm Eastern. The webinar will be presented by Dr. Hoblyn, Professor at Stanford School of Medicine and chief medical officer of eTherapi.com. Space is limited, so reserve your spot here today!