Dr. Romance: Caregiving and Marriage Stress
Saving Marriage: Tips to Help your Marriage Survive when Taking Care of an Elderly Parent
By TINA TESSINA
If your parents are elderly and becoming infirm, or if there are others who require special care in your family, due to disability or illness the situation you will need to figure out how to maintain a balance between your marital life and this often taxing situation. If you have a large family, the burden of care is often lightened by sharing the responsibilities, but if you are an only child, the problem may be more difficult to resolve.
It is beyond the scope of this article to go into all the details necessary to discuss proper care of the elderly or those who are seriously ill. The key is to take charge of your own life and not let it be all about your family members; the following guidelines will help you make the appropriate decisions to help, while still keeping your own life functional.
GUIDELINES FOR HELPING FAMILY MEMBERS IN NEED
1. Get as much information as you can.
Learn what the problem is, what kind of help is needed, and what is involved in the care. Often local agencies, such as a Senior Citizens Center, or a non-profit foundation for the particular disease or disability involved, will have lots of good information. The Internet is also an amazing source, once you learn how to use it. Check the appendix for some suggestions on where to begin.
2. Make sure your entire family knows what the problem is, and what kind of help is needed.
Don't let some reluctance to “bother” people or to tell the truth, or an old family relationship problem, get in the way of utilizing all the help that everyone in the family can give. If you have five people who can share the care and help, you'll obviously have an easier time than if you try to do it alone.
3. Work to find a way for each family member to contribute help in the way that works best for him or her.
As long as the burden feels fairly distributed in general, don't worry if one member contributes more time and another more money. It all qualifies as help, and if you try to make everyone do the same thing, you'll end up in a struggle.
4. Have regular discussions among the caregivers.
Discuss how the arrangements are working, if everyone is doing his or her share, and how everyone feels about it. Clearing the air frequently will avoid resentments piling up.
5. Use community resources.
Especially if you're alone, use as many community resources as you can find. People often feel negative about senior care residences or convalescent hospitals, but if placing your family member in a good care facility is financially workable and it relieves the burden of actual care so that you can be more emotionally supportive, that may well be a good decision. If your family member is at home, make sure you check out home health or hospice care options with your doctor, your medical insurance, and community agencies.
6. Find support for yourself.
If you are doing this jointly with other family members, use your family meetings as times to air your frustrations and feelings and to support each other. If you are caring for a loved one by yourself, then let your friends know you'll need a lot of emotional support, and allow them to help.
7. Take breaks whenever you can.
This kind of care is very stressful. If you can manage to get away occasionally (one day a week, when the visiting nurse comes in, or rotate weekends off if you have help), you'll be more able to handle the day to day pressure.
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