Dr. Patricia Yarberry Allen is a collaborative physician who writes a weekly Medical Monday” column for Women’s Voices for Change. (Search our archives for her posts, calling on the expertise of medical specialists, on topics from angiography to vulvar melanoma.)

This week, Dr. Pat has asked Megan Riddle, M.D./Ph.D. — a psychiatry resident at the University of Washington and a graduate of the Weill Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program — to consult with a wife who is overwhelmed with caregiving for her husband and is seeking advice about ways to share the responsibilities and the steps she can take to improve her quality of life.

 

13553296935_e8514d714d_zPhoto by Let Grow Therapy via Flickr (Creative Commons License)

 

Dear Dr. Pat,

I am 67 years old and in fairly good health.  However, my husband of 45 years (and we have had a wonderful marriage) just turned 70 last month and is not doing well. He developed diabetes in his 40s and is now having more problems.  He is in and out of the hospital and last year had to have his foot amputated because of an infection in the bone that just wouldn’t heal.  He also has trouble with his vision. Our lives have become a series of doctors’ appointments, trips to the pharmacy for yet another new medication, and holding our breath until the next hospital stay.  I spend much of my day taking care of him, as he is unable to do much for himself.  He can’t go out much anymore — it wears him out.  He tells me I should go out and enjoy myself, but I mostly stay home with him.  We used to be very active in the community and had a great circle of friends.  Now, I barely see anyone other than my husband and his doctors.  I am feeling isolated, exhausted, and, sometimes, overwhelmed.  I hate to say this, but when he is in the hospital, at least I know he is being taken care of.  We have three grown children all of whom have had a wonderful relationship with their father. They do offer to come over and help, but they are busy with families of their own. I feel guilty, but sometimes I resent that no one is taking care of me.  I know others must be going through the same thing.  Any advice?

Thanks,
Shirley

 

Dear Shirley,

Thank you for writing. Caregiving responsibilities can overtake the entire life of a person who is the only person in charge, leading to neglect of the caregiver’s emotional and physical health. However, there are new ways of looking at sharing the care and choosing to have some meaningful life outside the small circle of caregiver and patient. I have asked Dr. Megan Riddle to discuss this increasingly important issue in more detail but first, here are some positive steps you can take to improve your life.

  1. Sit down with your closest friends and let them know that you have been advised to re-enter your social life. Ask to be included as a “single” for group events and join a regular evening book or movie night with your friends of many years.
  2. Do give your husband who was always a good father an opportunity to spend time with each of your children and grandchildren without you there. Surely, each of your three children can take a night or weekend day a week, giving you the opportunity for rejuvenation.
  3. Take an exercise or yoga class once a week.
  4. Focus a bit on looking good. Although this may seem like a silly remark, I have always found it helpful, “If you look good, you will feel good.” Certainly, you will feel better about yourself.
  5. Finally, share the care. Friends and family often want something concrete to do. It could be enlivening for your husband’s mood as well, to have others around who can add interest to his life.  

Dr. Pat

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Next Page: Dr. Riddle Responds

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  • Deborah Robinson April 4, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you for this informative article! One comment would that there are also many couples who either do not have children living near by or may be childless. This can also make things a little bit more stressful. I think more articles on this topic could be helpful.

    Reply
  • Karen Free April 4, 2016 at 8:12 am

    I would add have a massage. Touch is so important and is often absent in a caregiver marriage situatuon.

    Reply