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National Family Caregivers Month: Caring for an Ailing Spouse (part 2)

November 12, 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 2 of 4. Feel free to leave a comment below and share this article.

Caring for an Ailing Spouse (Chapter 2)

As illness closes in, the world becomes smaller and more restricted, which can be very frustrating for both of you. To the extent possible, try to see things from your spouse's perspective. Be as patient and compassionate as you can. Adapt, improvise when you have to, and you will have the best chance to overcome problems as they arise.

Richard and DoloresMealtime can present some challenges. Remember the foods that your spouse especially enjoyed, and do your best to include those favorites regularly. If swallowing becomes a problem for your spouse, a speech therapist will need to give you guidance. You may need to puree food for safe consumption. Purchase a small food processor to help you out. (Baby food is an alternative also.) You may need to add a thickener to beverages, readily available at most pharmacies. Specially-designed eating utensils and dishes are available that make it easier for your spouse to feed him- or herself though you may need to feed your spouse at times. Use a bib or apron to protect clothing. Your spouse may need to eat small meals more than three times a day, keep favorite snacks on hand.

Keep an eye on your spouse to see how well he or she manages to accomplish routine activities like using the toilet, bathing, getting in and out of bed, dressing, just getting around. Be aware, and be ready to offer assistance if there appears to be a struggle.

Look for activities that your spouse can manage so that he or she feels useful around the home. There are a number of tasks that may be appropriate, such as sorting and folding laundry, drying dishes (nothing too heavy or fragile), setting the table, dusting, and so on. Even if your spouse is wheelchair-bound, such tasks may be possible with your help.

As often as possible, use your spouse as a resource ask for advice or input about performing household tasks, planning meals, shopping for groceries, and so on. As much as possible, keep your spouse involved in your daily life, and certainly involved in any decision that directly affects him or her. Your spouse may not be able to dress without assistance, but he or she can still choose an outfit. Regular visits to the barbershop or salon for a haircut or style can do wonders for morale. Be creative don't get hung up on the way things were always done in the past. Communicate!

Give some thought to providing entertainment that your spouse can enjoy. Favorite movies on DVD can be enjoyed anytime. If your spouse enjoys reading, keep plenty of well-loved books on hand. Visit the library together! Make sure your spouse has adequate light, a comfortable chair, and glasses with extra magnification or a magnifier if necessary. A special support for books, magazines or a newspaper may be helpful. If short-term memory is a problem, consider options that don't require remembering a storyline. The MGM series That's Entertainment consists of songs and dances excerpted from movie musicals. PBS ran a series on National Parks that includes beautiful scenery that can be enjoyed without having to follow a story. Variety or talent shows may be good choices. As for books, consider episodic stories (such as James Herriott's veterinary memoirs) that are light on plot. Picture books or audio books may also be an option.

As your spouse's care becomes more time-consuming, you will find that you have difficulty getting everything done. Being responsible for your spouse's care 24 hours a day is a heavy load to carry. You will require some time away from your spouse so that both of you have time to catch your breath. Check with social-services agencies in your area to see what resources are available. (Your place of worship may have some suggestions also.) Consider engaging a part-time caregiver to assist, even one or two days a week for a few hours, so you can have some time to yourself. Adult daycare facilities are available in most areas, and that may be a workable option. If you choose to get assistance, talk with your spouse to make sure he or she understands the arrangement. When you leave your spouse in someone else's care, make sure you commit to a time when you will come back and stick to it. Your spouse may become anxious otherwise, as he or she depends on you.

Be aware of what is going on with your spouse. Be alert for changes, and they may be gradual or sudden, so you need to keep an eye on behavior, both physical and mental. Even an unusual odor may alert you to a medical problem that requires treatment. If you notice such a condition, SEEK HELP IMMEDIATELY. Your spouse may disagree, but you must trust your own judgment. Prompt action may be critical. Call 911.

The next installment will address such issues as exercise, home cleanliness, safe travel, and more.

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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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