At some point along the path of life, we step into the path of being a caregiver; we expected this as we became parents or as our own parents aged. But when we married someone, this role was not delineated in our dreams or vision of our vows of “from this day forward!”
Our partners are often the same age cohort as we, so we could both have some physical challenges, making our role even more challenging. The role “caregiver” could have come on suddenly after a medical incident or serious fall; or it might have come upon the two of you so gradually that you struggled with accepting that you are now responsible for the both of you and, yes, you are “it!”
Literally in some relationships, especially those without children or close family and friends to offer support, the burden can become great when you have no one to share the emotional toll as well as the physical exhaustion that can come with this role.
Those caring for someone with just physical challenges still have a partner to be in relationship with; this doesn’t mean it is easy. It just means you have someone to connect with that you have loved over the years and you usually want the very best for that partner. However, there are those of you who are caring for a partner that has a serious cognitive issue like Alzheimer ’s disease. That becomes a place of loneliness for the well spouse because the partner with the cognitive issues loses the ability to understand and partner in a loving relationship as the disease progresses.
You should begin planning for the two of you way before one of you needs care. However, that almost never happens. It is usually someone in the circle of care that says to you, “you need help.” Of course, they don’t know where or who you should seek to be your “navigator.” The answer is a Professional Aging Life Care Expert, formerly called geriatric care managers.
The Aging Life Care Expert is usually a Master’s level prepared professional, credentialed and certified with a background in social work, counseling, psychology, gerontology, nursing or related fields. They will assess the current situation, project what you might need in the future and connect you to vetted professionals in the fields of law, medicine, socialization, spirituality, stress reduction and financial planning.
That is just their first step – getting you the documents, services and advice that will put you on solid ground. When it comes to dilemmas with medical issues, they will become your advocate in that area – partnering with you to ask the right questions and get the specialist you and your spouse need now. They will be your guide to obtain benefits from insurances, entitlements, government services or community services. They are always available to you. When you don’t know what you don’t know, they will be your compass, leading the way so you can stay healthy and not become a victim of over caring and burnout.
Many Aging Life Care Experts run support groups for spousal caregivers or know where to find one – that might be your first step in getting on the right path. This is a journey that requires a trusted coach, a guide navigator. You would not venture on a voyage without one. Find an advocate for yourself; it will impact the quality of both of your lives.
To find a Professional Aging Life Care expert is easy – just go to the website (www.aginglifecare.org) and put in your zip code. Call at least 3 of the people listed in your area; ask about how long they have been doing this type of work, not how long they have been a care manager. Ask about certification – you want a certification approved by the Aging Life Care Association – that gives you peace of mind that they have the skills and expertise you need.
About the Author: Linda Fodrini-Johnson, MA, MFT, CMC, is an Advanced Professional Member and Fellow of the Leadership Academy. You can find her at www.eldercareanswers.com.
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.