Emil and Louise moved into our retirement community with one goal in mind: "We want to be together no matter what." Louise suffered from dementia. Emil wanted to focus on his wife's care. This new setting allowed him to do just that, since staff took care of meals, housekeeping and other maintenance. Their daughter gave her full support.
Perhaps one of your parents cares for the other full time. You may be worried, and with good reason. Recent research has shown that the stress of caring for a spouse with a disabling illness can shorten the life of the caregiving spouse. Dr. Nicholas Christakis, A Harvard Medical School physician and sociologist, came to this conclusion in a study published in February, 2006, in the American Sociological Review.
With 518,240 couples aged 65 and older, the study found that the causes of excess death in the caregiving spouse included accidents, heart attacks, lung disease and diabetes.
A woman taking care of a husband with dementia or psychiatric illness was at greater risk than if she were actually widowed, the study said. As an adult child, how can you help the reduce this stress?
1. Discover your caregiving parent's needs. That list may include help with housekeeping and home maintenance, meal preparation and shopping. As care needs increase, the ill spouse may need someone to help with bathing and dressing. And don't forget the caregiver's need for respite and renewal, as well as for friendship and camraderie.
2. Decide which needs you or other family members can meet, and which can be provided by professional service providers, such as home care agencies or adult day programs.
3. Consider a continuing care retirement community. Louise and Emil stayed together in their apartment for several years, thanks to this supportive setting. Toward the end of her life, Louise lived in the nursing home, just steps away from Emil's apartment.
4. Notice signs of stress with your caregiving parent. Some of those include high blood pressure, spiking blood sugars and shingles. Keep in close touch with your parent's physician, who may provide some objective advice. And finally, let your caregiving parent know that it's OK with you to place your other parent in a group home or nursing home, should the caregiving needs become too great.