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National Family Caregivers Month: Caring for an Ailing Spouse (part 3)

November 14, 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 3 of 4. Feel free to leave a comment below and share this article.

Caring for an Ailing Spouse (Chapter 3)

Don't get so busy doing things FOR your ailing spouse that you neglect to do things WITH him or her. You are still partners, and your spouse will appreciate activities you can enjoy together.

Take a walk! Even if your spouse uses a walker or a wheelchair, you can still walk around the neighborhood. Fresh air and a change of scenery are good have a picnic under a shady tree in the yard or listen to the radio on the porch. If you have trouble making conversation (or if speech is difficult), why not read aloud to your spouse? Stories or poems may be fun for both of you.

1-Richard SOther enjoyable shared activities might include listening to music, making jigsaw puzzles, or playing games. Choose puzzles or games based on the abilities of your spouse so that he or she does not become frustrated. If physical intimacy has been a regular part of your lives, make sure to continually show and tell your spouse that he or she is still loved, attractive and needed. It is important for both of you.

What does your spouse like to do? Try to figure out ways to allow your spouse to continue being involved in such activities. Suppose gardening is a favorite pastime. Repotting flowers, pruning, or simply watering flowers may be possible, or perhaps you and your spouse could plant a small container garden that would be easier to care for. If sports are a hobby, perhaps there is a tabletop version you can play together or a game on TV you can watch.

Encourage friends and family members to visit often, especially the grandkids! Even if your spouse has difficulty communicating, he or she can enjoy the company and conversation of others. Your place of worship may have a home-visitation program as well, allowing your spouse to keep up-to-date even if he or she is unable to attend services.

Your spouse should have a regular exercise program, if possible either for rehabilitation or to maintain a level of strength and mobility. Speak to a physical therapist or doctor and learn what exercises are appropriate and how (and how often) they should be done. Provide suitable exercise equipment, or visit a gym if possible to work with a knowledgeable trainer. Teach your children how to assist with the exercises. They'll be pleased to help Mom or Dad, and you'll get a break as well. (Other caregivers, if you use them, can help out also.)

Another area that should be addressed is keeping your spouse safe when traveling. Always use a seat belt and shoulder belt. If your spouse has trouble sitting up straight, there are car seats available for adults that may be useful. They have a four-point harness like a child's safety seat, and will keep your spouse in a safe position for traveling and reduce the risk of injury should the vehicle's airbag be deployed. A stool and a slippery covering on the seat may help them get in and out of the vehicle and be positioned for attaching the seat harness. If your travel plans include staying in a hotel or motel, be sure to request a handicapped-equipped room. You may want to carry a rubber bathtub mat and suction-cup safety bars with you just in case. They'll provide an extra measure of protection.

Your spouse will want your home to be just as it always was, so that it seems familiar. This is especially important if your spouse has short-term memory problems or dementia. However, it is important to keep your home clean and uncluttered at all times. Remove extra furniture and decorative items that could be hazardous if knocked over (glass vases or china figurines, for example). Consider hiring a house-cleaning service to handle heavy cleaning, particularly in the kitchen and bathroom. Schedule a weekly appointment. It will be one less concern for you, and allow you to concentrate on care-giving.

If your home is unsuited to the demands of your spouse's illness, you may have the option of relocating. If so, there are a number of features that you should consider: open spaces are much easier for maneuvering walkers and wheelchairs, as are wide doorways and short-pile carpets. Choose a one-story house (no stairs) and consider the use of ramps for access. If you can't afford to move, you may want to talk to an expert about ways to modify your home to make it safer for your spouse.

As your spouse's condition changes, you need to modify your care-giving to accommodate the change. My next installment (the last one) addresses some issues to consider when home care isn't enough.

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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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