When Elderly Spouses Care For Each Other at Home Something Has to Give
By Isabel Fawcett, SPHR For LTC Expert Publications
“In sickness and in health, until death do us part,” are words used in traditional marital vows.
The harsh realities of caring at home for a spouse or domestic partner in old age can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating.
It is difficult for aging spouses who must face and assist with their partner’s incontinence, declining health, mental confusion, uncertainty of care circumstances and medical prognosis. Some partners make a promise to self and/or partner that they will do the honors or perceive that they have a responsibility to do the caregiving at home honors – for the duration. Nothing is further from the truth, however.
A marital or domestic relationship does not mean that an aging partner should not ask for, and/or seek outside help.
Benefits of Home Care and Aging at Home
If there is any care circumstance well-suited to home care, aging spousal caregivers may
be one such ideal profile, for many reasons.
- If a domestic partner or spouse has less assistive care chores to do around the home, he or she is likely to have more quality moments to spend with his or her spouse or partner and others.
- The healthier spouse may be at home and available to provide direct supervision and daily guidance to home care workers.
- The spouse or partner who is chronically ill is not left alone with a home care worker for extended periods of time if his or her healthier partner is not employed outside the home.
- The healthier spouse has ample opportunities to enjoy respite while the home health care worker is on duty.
- The healthier spouse may elect to do the assistive care honors on weekends only, for example. Regardless of alternating care days elected, the healthier spouse will still be doing less, rather than more heavy-duty assistive care responsibilities.
- If the couple wants a less invasive home care service, they may choose meal deliveries only, be it Meals on Wheels type programs, or private company services that deliver high-end, nutritious meals to their customers.
- Time and effort saved through a less invasive home care program or service may lead elders to consider additional home care programs or services, if the less invasive service is similarly successful.
- Home care services offer sustained relief to local and long-distance family caregivers if their elders are in good hands.
- If the home care provider nurtures the provider-elder relationship and builds trust, elders have someone with whom they can talk as often as the service allows.
- Given a choice, few elders would choose institutional care over in-home support.
- Elder independence is encouraged with skilled home care.
- The healthier spouse or partner no longer feels alone. There is someone else your elder can call locally. Long-distance family caregivers are also encouraged to periodically touch base with the direct care provider to ensure greater checks and balances.
For many individuals, home is where their heart remains. Adult children can help our aging parents keep their homes as long as it is safe for them to do so. As with other major decisions in our lives, ongoing evaluation is important. What works today may no longer be effective at some future date.
To avoid surprises, let your parents know that you need and welcome their feedback in evaluating what works and what doesn’t in their home care services. Allow your parents to retain as much decision-making authority in their lives as reasonably possible. No one enjoys feeling powerless.
What is Home Care? What Can Your Family Expect?
If your parents only require companion services, there may be local volunteers available through care agencies and religious organizations. By far, skilled nursing care is the most expensive in-home care option. Nurses are licensed, as are physical and occupational therapists.
Home health aides and nurse’s aides are trained to assist with bathing, getting dressed, toileting, lifting and other personal care needs.
Start with your parents’ treating physician and hospital-based geriatric management services. They are trained to steer families in the right direction based on exhaustive medical assessments of your aging parents’ needs.
If you think that home care is not financially affordable, remember that most long-term care alternatives are costly. By comparison, home care may be the most affordable alternative for elders and caregivers.