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National Family Caregivers Month: Caring for an Ailing Spouse (part 1)

November 7, 2013

November is National Family Caregivers Month, which honors the 48.9 million caregivers (according to the National Alliance for Caregiving) who help care for an aging loved one. At Concordia, we know the complexities of caring for someone with a chronic condition or disability, and we hope you all know that we're here for you for advice, for assistance, for support...

But most of all, we're here to applaud you for caring for those who need a helping hand. Please consider this our standing ovation. :)

The following article was written by Richard Sater, who cared for his wife Dolores for over a decade as she battled Parkinson's disease. While he was Dolores' main caregiver, she did use Concordia for a few short-term rehab stays, and attended Adult Day Services two or three half-days a week for a year. His hope is that by reading this story, family caregivers can be more prepared for some of the challenges that may lie ahead.

Richard is not an employee of Concordia and he isn't a medical professional - and he would be the first to say that every situation is different. So like everything else you may read online, be sure to consult your physician or social service agency before taking on any caregiving responsibilities.

This is part 1 of 4. Feel free to leave a comment below and share this article.

Caring for an Ailing Spouse (Chapter 1)

My wife, Dolores, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in the year 2000. This article is the first in a series that identifies how we addressed the care challenges we faced until she passed away in 2012.

1-Sater 4The choice to provide care at home marks an important change affecting the lives of both partners. If you choose to be the primary caregiver for your spouse, you will find it is one of the most demanding tasks you've ever tackled. It is a major commitment, and not one to be taken lightly. Once you make the choice to provide in-home care, it is entirely up to YOU to help your spouse get as much out of life as possible.

The first consideration is attitude not only of the potential caregiver but of the ailing spouse as well. If either of you considers the task to be a chore, it will probably not be done very well, and neither partner will be satisfied. For me, it was something I wanted to do for the woman who had given me so much love over the 54 years that we spent together. By making a commitment, I mean doing everything that you can for your spouse. You make sacrifices as they are called for.

First things first: It is important for both partners to have Living Wills and Medical Powers of Attorney in place (these documents are required to be witnessed and notarized). The first one defines the limits on health care that either partner is willing to accept in a crisis situation. The second defines the procedures for transferring health care decisions to another party when the incumbent becomes incapable of making those decisions. These documents take the need for critical decisions out of the hands of any care giver. It is important that all outside care-providers are aware of the Living Will stipulations and have access to a copy of those instructions.

Regarding the practical, hands-on aspects of home care, first and foremost is providing a safe environment for your ailing spouse. Use professional caregivers as a resource to determine the need for additional safety devices in your home. (Such resources are available in most communities.) You may need to install safety bars and handrails in strategic areas like bathrooms, stairways, areas across from open stairways, and other potentially hazardous areas. A fold-down seat in the shower can make bathing much safer. Eliminate tripping hazards such as loose carpets, extension cords and low furniture.

One-floor living may be the best arrangement but is not always possible. If your home is on multiple levels, consider installing a stairway lift to ensure safe passage from one floor to another. Consider using alarms to detect unsafe actions, such as getting out of a chair or bed without assistance.

A baby monitor or intercom can be useful to hear your spouse when you are in another part of the house. Special locks or gates for stairway doors or entries could be useful, as could arming your home security system (if you have one) to sound an alarm if an outside door is opened. Think about how to keep your partner safe at all times.

An ailing spouse is likely to have increased medical needs, and it is important to manage doctor visits and medications. Schedule regular appointments and provide assistance in transporting your spouse to and from these appointments. Sit in on the doctor visits, and make sure you get satisfactory answers to any questions you have. Maintain adequate supplies of all necessary medications and make sure you administer them as directed. Use a pill container that divides medications by the day of the week (and the time of day) and prepare everything in advance.

Once you make the decision to be the primary caregiver, you must make sure to take very good care of your own health. Get regular physical examinations, a yearly flu shot, take your medications as prescribed, and exercise. You cannot help your spouse if you are ailing yourself.

Taking care of an ailing spouse may mean taking on a number of other household chores as well, including shopping for groceries, planning and preparing meals, doing laundry and housecleaning. Additionally, your spouse will likely need assistance with personal care using the toilet, bathing, dressing, and so on.

These aspects of home care and more will be covered in detail as this series continues. I hope my experiences summarized here will provide insights that others might find useful in making the decision to care for an ailing spouse at home.

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With over 130 years of service, Concordia Lutheran Ministries has a long history of helping seniors and their families. And as one of the most comprehensive providers in the country, we're able to find the right fit from a care and cost perspective.

Serving over 20,000 people annually, Concordia offers a lifetime continuum of care that includes adult day services, home care, hospice, medical and rehabilitation services, memory care, personal care, respite care, retirement living, skilled nursing, and medical equipment capabilities.

E-mail us here or call us today at 724.352.1571 if you have any questions about our services and whether or not we can assist you and your loved ones.

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