Skip To Content

Caring for an Ill Spouse

Don’t let your caregiving duties overwhelm you. Here are some approaches to help.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

It can be overwhelming to learn that your spouse or partner has a chronic or long-term condition or disease. Depending on  the health condition of your loved one, you may be taking on a caregiver role. This role may include helping your partner take their meds, preparing specific foods or providing and coordinating all day care. Most likely you haven't trained to be a caregiver, so you’ll be  learning lots of new information and possibly making changes in your regular lifestyle. These changes are often referred to as “the new normal.”

But here are some steps that may help ease the stress of caregiving:

  • Learn as much as you can about your spouse’s disease or condition. Knowledge may ease the anxiety you feel. If there is something  you don’t understand, ask the treatment team. Explore credible websites for more information.
  • Talk to other caregivers for support. You need to know you’re not alone. A social worker, hospital staff or place of worship may have ideas. If your spouse has a specific condition, there may be support groups that specialize in that area. Many also operate online – that may be a good fit if an in-person group isn’t available.
  • Help your partner be as independent as possible. Performing even small tasks will be good for them — and you. You might need to make some adjustments around your home to accommodate their needs. Again, the treatment team can help you identify what changes may be needed.
  • Be realistic. Let your spouse and others know your limits. It might help to make a list of all the special activities that need to be done. Choose what you feel up to and seek help for the rest. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t be the sole source of care. Ask the ill spouse who they would like to care for them when you can’t be there or need a break.
  • Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Don’t try to be perfect.

Caring for yourself
If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll be a less effective caregiver. You’ll have less of yourself to give to your loved one. Don’t think of this as being selfish. Eat healthy meals, exercise and get plenty of sleep. Find time to relax each day and do things that you enjoy or that make you laugh. If you’re overly tired or irritable, take a break.

Physical activity can be good for your mental outlook and overall health. Try to get activity on most days of the week. Add at least two days a week of resistance movements like lifting weights. Brisk walking can also help clear your head — see if you can find a walking buddy, so you can socialize at the same time. This would also be a great time to talk with your friends. Sometimes that workout buddy can help keep your motivation going. Check with your doctor before you increase  your activity level or take on a new exercise program.

Research shows that caregivers — especially women — are more likely to have symptoms of stress, depression or anxiety. You may even have a chronic condition yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Be sure to take any prescribed medicines and get the care you need to be at your best. Invite close relatives and friends to your home, so you don’t isolate yourself. Staying social is very important for your emotional health. You may want to join a support group for caregivers in a similar situation, too. You can also share tips you’ve learned along the way.

Your community may have resources to help in the following areas: transportation, meal delivery, home health care servies, non-medical home care, home modification, legal assistance and financial counseling. Check with your area Agency on Aging or your doctor if you are not sure where to look.

Sources: Publications. Caregiver stress fact sheet. Accessed: March 24, 2016. Caregiving support and help. Accessed: March 24, 2016.

Last Updated: March 28, 2016