Coping with Spouse or Parent’s Declining Health

Every American family at some point will experience a loved one’s health decline. How do you cope? How can you prepare for the costs and burdens that come with long-term care?

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Coping with Spouse or Parent’s Declining Health
7 Min Read August 26th, 2020

Life can bring so much joy for the years. However, in life, we face struggles and challenges. One of the most profound events we face is the decline of a spouse's or parents' health.

We know the realities of life. We face health and age crises as we get older. Some come and go quickly. As medical science continues to advance, we enjoy longevity. Even with health and aging issues, we continue to live.

The consequences of living with declining health impact us emotionally. The cost of care can impact us financially. The stress and strain will be tremendous on the whole family.

Dealing with Denial

One of the first issues everyone faces is denial on somebody's part. Once someone in the family mentions a loved one's declining health, the rest of the family can become emotional. The family can go into a tailspin as family members discuss the reality or, in their mind, the overreaction of the changing health events.

A spouse and adult children often will want to ignore the obvious. The person whose health is declining may resist the need for help and assistance. The spouse may become defensive. Siblings will fight among themselves about how to best handle the upcoming crisis.

A spouse's relations with the person who is experiencing declining health will change, often dramatically. The change brings challenges to the relationship itself.

Instead of enjoying life and normal activities, everyday life routines now include doctor's visits, testing, assistive devices, outside caregivers, and lower energy and activity levels.

Depression and Anxiety is Common for Family

Watching the slow decline of a parent or spouse can bring on depression and anxiety, not to mention the depression and anxiety of the care recipient. You start thinking about activities that were on the "to-do" list that may never get done. The "what ifs" start to become very loud in your head.

Adult children think what if they were more involved; maybe they could have encouraged their parent to seek medical attention sooner. The level of guilt and despair increases. Generally, no advance plan or conversation about long-term care and aging has taken place. For families with a plan in place like Long-Term Care Insurance, it makes it easier but doesn't change the reality.

An analysis of 168 studies into family caregiving shows that spouses who take on the role of caregivers suffer from higher levels of depression and financial issues along with physical burdens. Their well-being is negatively affected, as well.

The adult children and children-in-laws see their relationship with the care recipient as less favorably. These family caregivers face the challenges of addressing their own careers, families, responsibilities, and being a caregiver. These roles bring stress and strain physically, emotionally, and financially.

Relationships Change

A spouse who is also a caregiver has a higher level of a perceived burden than other caregivers. The reality of their loved one's potential death, which they have often lived with for decades, is very stressful. The loss of normal companionship and the sharing of activities that may be limited or eliminated changed the relationship dynamic.

Older spouses looking at eachotherThe research also indicates that since the spouse usually is living with the care recipient, they often provide more hours of care and support and, as a result, get less respite from the caregiver role than adult children and children-in-law.  

The other problem is the spouse is often older themselves when age-related health issue impacts the other spouse. The age factor increases the risk of their own health decline when providing long-term care services for their loved one. However, as we all enjoy greater longevity, even adult children are often older themselves and face their own levels of depression and anxiety and challenging health concerns that get magnified when providing care for Mom or Dad.

Coping with Life’s Changes

While experts say we should understand it is the natural order of things, dealing with the stress, anxiety, health, and financial concerns are real. It brings many questions about coping with the challenges, especially when there is no help from insurance.

Woman Thinking

Some of the common questions are as follows:

  • "How do I deal with my overwhelming sadness at seeing the decline of a spouse's or parent's health?"
  • "I can't stop crying, how do I make it go away?
  • "What could I have done differently to have prevented this from happening?"
  • "How do I live my life now that this is going on?"
  • "How do I deal with this change's grief, and am I being too selfish?"

Eldercare Link offers many suggestions. As we become at peace with mortality, including your own, you will be better equipped to find the joy still left and better handle the situation's stresses.

Talking is Beneficial

The conversation is always something professional counselors suggest as a tool to better deal with any crisis in our lives. Whether it's a conversation with your spouse or parent as they begin to become frail or suffer from health or cognitive issues or your own conversation with your inner circle to share your concerns with other people you love and trust, the goal is to talk.

This article offers many suggestions that will help you start on those conversations with a declining loved one and family members.

Dr. John Rolland, an adjunct professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and author of the book "Helping Couples and Families Navigate Illness and Disability: An Integrated Approach," Says couples need to adjust their expectations. While they need to accept what is being lost due to an illness or aging, they still need to understand what they still have together.

This same advice is applied to adult children and grandchildren. The person is they love is still there. Focus on being family and try not to focus on the negative.

When a Parent or Spouse Has Dementia

Adjusting to a parent or spouse with some form of dementia is very challenging. People must redefine their roles, accept change, and adapt to the reality you are facing. For a spouse, they must realize their marriage is now different. While some people can understand physical deterioration, the cognitive decline can be more difficult, especially if physically, they are still reasonably healthy.

Some tips when dealing with a loved one who has dementia:

  1. Education. Learn what you can about the problem. The more you know, the better you can know what to expect as time goes by and adjust to the new reality.
  2. The spouse or parent's behavior will change as dementia progresses. The behavior is not intentional. Even so, it is hard emotionally to accept when they are acting out or acting in a way they would never have done so in the past.
  3. Seek help. Find help from every available source. If you have Long-Term Care Insurance use the benefits. Sometimes families want to delay using benefits to "save it for a rainy day." Don't delay the claim.
  4. Support Groups. There are many groups where you can meet with others experiencing the same things you are experiencing. The conversation will give you better peace-of-mind.

Prepare for the Consequences of Aging

Understand none of us are immune to the consequences of aging and health changes as we get older. It is beneficial to plan before these health changes occur. Affordable Long-Term Care Insurance offers the guaranteed tax-free resources which will provide you with access to quality care in the setting you desire – including care at home. This will reduce the stress on spouses and children. The policy will also safeguard income and assets to maintain independence, lifestyle, and legacy.

Long-Term Care Insurance is affordable, but you should obtain coverage in your 40s or 50s to have the lowest premiums and the most options. A qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist will help you navigate the options and differences between companies. You can start the comparison between insurance companies by clicking here.

Premiums can vary dramatically between insurance companies. If you shopped and saw it was expensive, speak with a specialist who works with all the top companies. Plus, Long-Term Care Insurance is custom designed. Find a trusted and experienced specialist by clicking here.

You can see the current and future cost of extended care services where you love by using the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator by clicking here.

Cope as you can as you deal with a spouse or parent today. Prepare your family and finances by planning for longevity and its consequences now.

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About the Author

Linda is a freelance writer interested in retirement planning, health and aging.

LTC News Contributor Linda Kople

Linda Kople

Contributor since October 31st, 2017

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