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What do you do (after 50 years of being the loving and devoted spouse), you find yourself as the primary caregiver for your significant other who has been diagnosed with cancer?
This story is true for so many people. Their loved one is discharged home from a hospital stay with instructions and a “good-bye”. It is now up to the sole family caregiver to figure out what’s next. Well, what’s next are numerous scheduling of visiting nurses and home care workers (if covered by their insurance plan). You will also become familiar with medical terms and medical equipment. Soon you will find yourself performing procedures and changing wound dressings like a trained nurse.
All this can be overwhelming for the average person. But becoming a caregiver for a spouse or significant other brings up a unique set of circumstances. Those who care for a spouse or significant other suffer from depression at a higher rate and closer to the end of the caregiving event. The emotional implications are rooted in facing the reality that those dreams the two of you shared will not happen. For example, watching the grandchildren grow up or taking that trip to Greece for the 60th wedding anniversary. Dealing with the new mechanics of the marriage (or union) can be mentally draining, as you watch the strong abled body of the one you committed to sharing your life with, now weakened and in constant pain.
The emotional distress and feelings of depression can manifest in physical signs and symptoms. But there are challenges that may arise due to the caregiver’s physical make-up. For instance, a wife may find it physically impossible to lift or position her husband who is larger than her in size and weight. On the flip side, the husband may suffer from physical conditions that would prevent him from helping his wife get around. These examples refer to the traditional husband and wife, but the same can ring true in the unconventional definition of husband and wife. Assistive devices (i.e., chair lifts, walkers), assistance from friends/family or seeking help from a homecare agency may help alleviate some of the physical demands.
The spouse (now caregiver) may view the changes taking place in their marriage as embarrassing…or they may feel ashamed. They may find that their friends are not as understanding of their new caregiver role. But they may find that their friends are in similar situations. Support systems are available through Facebook groups, the Department of Family & Support Services in your locale, and through your local churches.
We all know how important it is to spend time apart from each other in a marriage. This is especially true when you become a spousal caregiver. Utilizing homecare service agencies or adult daycare services can be a source of respite care.