Tips on coping with being thrust into the role of caregiver for an ill or aging spouse

January 20, 2012 at 8:43 a.m.

"You are not alone." This is the most important thing for every spousal caregiver to remember. You may feel isolated, but there is a vast network of beneficial support available to people in your situation. Starting with friends, family and community resources and extending to organizations accessed via the Internet, always know that there is an abundance of support for you. The job of a family caregiver is an incredibly vital one; your loved one is depending on you like never before. Without accessing the support network, though, the caregiver can suffer emotional, physical and spiritual distress.

Many larger communities, hospitals and senior citizen organizations offer support groups for spouses who have assumed the role of primary caregiver to their ailing partner. Attending support meetings gives you an opportunity to share your experiences with others who fully understand the position you are in. Even the most sympathetic of your friends and relatives simply do not have a full depth of understanding of the impact on your life unless they have also been caregivers. A caregiver support group provides emotional camaraderie and support during a time when your emotional and even physical health are at heightened risk. The support groups are frequently an excellent source of information on respite events and local resources, vital for a family caregiver to know about and access.

In addition to community-based support groups, there are an abundance of resources available online that offer caregiver support. An online support group is there at any time of the day or night, so you can access the help you need when you need it most. Many online groups are based on the health condition your spouse is suffering from, providing a wealth of knowledge specific to that condition. They may also be a source for respite events for caregivers, giving them the necessary time to recharge before resuming their role.

If you are balancing the demands of work along with being a primary caregiver, you may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of performing at your peak both on the job and at home. Time management becomes a juggling act, and you struggle daily to keep all the balls in the air. It is essential to discuss your role as a family caregiver with your manager, letting them know your job has your full commitment, but there may be unavoidable conflicts at times. Know the law and how it relates to your situation. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to large employers and provides time off with job protection. Your company may have flexible work options, sick leave donations for those who have used theirs up, counseling services to help you cope with increased stress and time management, and other resources that make your dual role more manageable.

You are the most important person in your spouse's life, so remember how essential it is to get the support you need so you remain healthy and able to give the care he or she needs.

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