Challenges for Spousal Caregivers

I recently interviewed a happily married couple in which the wife is a full-time spousal caregiver of her husband, who suffered brain injury after a bicycle accident several years ago. He lost most of his ability to walk and talk as before, but communicates through other means. 

Often, when we hear of spousal caregivers, we think of individuals caring for a partner with cancer or dementia. Indeed, losing one’s partner bit by bit may be the toughest road of all. However, some couples are young when an accident occurs or one of them is diagnosed with a progressive illness. That’s when the “for better or worse” part of our promise kicks in, and life changes. The woman I interviewed is still very committed to her marriage, as well as to helping her husband recover. Every spouse with an ill or disabled spouse is unique. They may feel very alone in the world, even with a spouse still by their side.

This article provides some interesting insights into the lives of spousal caregivers. I found it interesting that the woman in the article said it still feels like marriage, just not in the same way, despite the fact that her husband no longer knows who she is. Of course, she longs for the connection they once had. Experts say caregivers often neglect their own health and wellbeing. With that in mind, the National Family Caregivers Association offered the following tips for those caring for an ill spouse:

  • Accept offers of help: Do not carry your burden alone. Build a support system from friends, neighbors, family and church groups.
  • Give yourself a break: Make a schedule that provides you with some off time to focus on your own needs.
  • Watch your own health: Don’t put off doctor appointments. Be sure to eat right and get your exercise — even a few minutes a day can make a difference. 
  • Review your loved one’s health care coverage: Some health plans for people on Medicare and Medicaid provide support to family caregivers, such as respite care and transportation help.
  • Seek expert advice: Care managers offered by some health plans can help you shoulder your caregiving responsibilities by guiding you to resources and services. Joining a support group in your community may also be a major benefit.*

Have you ever considered what you would do if you or your spouse became completely dependent or terminally ill?

Do you have friends or family who are spousal caregivers? If so, what help might you offer? Are you caring for an ill spouse yourself? If so, let others know how they can best help you.

*Source: National Family Caregivers Association

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4 responses to “Challenges for Spousal Caregivers

  1. I was a spousal caregiver for 4 years after my first husband’s car accident. I don’t think I could ever endure that again. I thought I could do “for better or for worse”, but my first husband’s accident seemed to magnify every negative attribute he ever had. The most difficult and damaged parts of his personality thrived and we lost healthcare after he couldn’t work, so we didn’t have access to a lot of resources.

    My second husband and I speak very practically about this topic. I knew a man who divorced his wife after serious health problems left her unable to care for herself. That way, she would be taken care of by the state and her medical bills wouldn’t destroy the family and her children could afford to have important opportunities, etc.

    I know we want to be romantic about noble sacrifices and whatnot, but any time this topic comes up on the marriage blogs, I hope for a less one-sided conversation and so, feel compelled to share my own. For me, becoming a full time spousal caregiver in my early 20s, with no income, nor health insurance was an awful experience.

    • Thanks for your honesty. Those of us who haven’t been there can’t judge your experience, particularly at that young age.

  2. Pingback: Forbearance | Simplify Marriage

  3. Pingback: Happy Marriages for those with Chronic Illness | Marriage Gems

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