"Will you still need me,
will you still feed me,
when I'm sixty-four."
--The Beatles, "When I'm 64"
Times have certainly changed since Lennon and McCartney penned and sang those words in 1967. Medical and healthcare strides are allowing people to live well into their 70's and 80's. Despite those health advances, the fact remains that caring for a spouse in need, regardless of their age, is very demanding, stressful and could threaten your own health.
One study from The Journals of Gerontology showed that caregivers suffered more psychological distress and fatigue than non-caregivers, and the length of service made a pronounced difference. Long-term caregivers had much higher rates of physical symptoms like headaches, body aches and abdominal discomfort.
Spousal caregivers experiencing caregiver strain have also been shown to have mortality risks that are 63 percent higher than non-caregivers.
As a caregiving spouse, you may begin to feel very isolated from friends and feel tremendous guilt about your own unmet needs. There can also be a sense of loss, especially if your spouse is living with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
So how do you know if caregiving is becoming too risky for you? Examine the list below and see how many apply to you.
Risk Factors for Spousal Caregiver Physical Stress
- Delaying your own doctor appointments/ignoring your own health
- Not eating a healthy diet for lack of time
- Losing sleep and energy
- Giving up exercise routines for lack of time
- Overusing tobacco and alcohol when you feel stressed
Risk Factors for Spousal Caregiver Emotional Stress
- Losing connections with friends for lack of time to socialize
- Bottling up feelings of anger and frustration and then being surprised by angry, even violent, outbursts directed at your spouse, other family members, co-workers - even strangers
- Feeling sad, down, depressed or hopeless
- Lacking interest in things that used to give you (and your spouse) pleasure
- Feeling resentful toward your spouse (blaming your spouse for the situation)
- Feeling that people ask more of you than they should
- Feeling like caregiving has affected family relationships in a negative way (annoyed by family members who don't help out)
Get Help if You Need It
All caregivers who feel overextended are at an increased risk for physical and emotional stress. Even if you are only experiencing two or three of the risk factors above, it is important to get help and support. The truth is your spouse/partner will be in better hands if you are healthy.
If you are facing some of the signs listed above, consider talking with a healthcare professional to help you evaluate your situation. Try these self-care tips that will reduce caregiver stress, as well as the associated risks of ongoing stress.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. One of the best ways to avoid becoming overstressed is to enlist the help of siblings, other family members and friends.
Respite care, which is simply a short break from caregiving, is another viable option. The care can occur at home and, when used over time, respite has been found to help caregivers continue to care for their loved one at home, preventing or delaying the need to move to a care community or facility.
Discover the ways that professional caregiving services could provide a much-needed break.