Signs and Solutions for Spousal Caregiver Burnout

We promise to be there for our partner “in sickness and in health,” so when one partner’s health declines and they need someone to care for them, the other spouse rises to the occasion to become a caregiver. 

While caregiving for a spouse is an admirable expression of love, it also can be a challenging time for your relationship. Caregiving requires not just navigating the physical or mental challenges taking place in your loved one; it also means understanding the physical, emotional, and mental challenges that a caregiver faces. 

What is caregiver burnout? 

Caregiver burnout is a state of exhaustion that is unique to those caring for a loved one. Burnout involves physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. It’s important for caregivers, as well as friends and family members, to recognize the signs of caregiver stress before it reaches the burnout stage.

What are the causes of caregiver burnout? 

At its core, caregiver burnout occurs when caregivers spend so much time caring for their loved one that they neglect themselves. This can manifest in many different ways, including:

  • Role confusion, which means difficulty finding a balance between the role of caregiver and spouse
  • Unrealistic expectations, either for their loved one’s health in general or having a naive view of how their caregiving will help their loved one
  • Lack of control, be it money, resources, time, or energy
  • Unreasonable demands on oneself or other loved ones
  • Not recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout, which can lead to caregivers becoming ill or unable to function effectively

What are the emotional impacts of caregiver burnout? 

The emotional and physical impacts of caregiver burnout can range from mild to severe. Physical effects can be easier to identify, such as becoming sick more often, getting injured more frequently, changes in weight and sleep patterns, and other visible effects. However, emotional impacts aren’t always easy to identify. Here are just a few of the effects that caregiver stress can have on your emotions: 

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Feeling resentful toward your spouse
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless or helpless
  • Feelings of anger 
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Withdrawing from family members and friends
  • Sadness from no longer having free time or feeling like you’re unable to do anything but care for your loved one

Physical challenges of spousal caregiving

The responsibilities of caregiving can be especially challenging for older spouses. It’s not uncommon for the caregiving spouse to have underlying health issues or disabilities themselves, which can make it hard for them to physically care for their loved one. 

Female caregivers can find it difficult to physically help male partners, who may be significantly stronger or larger than them. This can cause long-term problems, such as injury to the caregiver or the patient. 

How to get help with spouse caregiver burnout

If you’re a caregiver feeling like you’re becoming overwhelmed, or if you’re a friend or family member of a spousal caregiver, it’s essential to understand how you can seek out help and assistance. Fortunately, support is available and often all around you! 

  1. Ask for help from those around you. Adult children, friends, and community members often want to help but don’t know how to help. Reach out to people with specific, concrete tasks they can do to provide assistance (such as, “Can you watch Tim for a few hours on Wednesday while I go to a doctor’s appointment?”). 
  2. Find a support group. It can be very lonely to be a spousal caregiver, and you can feel like no one understands what you’re going through. In a caregiver support group, you’ll find others going through similar situations who can empathize with your struggles and provide reassurance and advice. 
  3. Look into respite care. Respite care is provided from different sources, like home care services or senior living communities. This is an excellent option if you need to go out of town or simply need a break on a short-term basis. 

Help is here at The Merion

We understand that caregiving for a spouse can be stressful, sad and lonely. At The Merion, we offer the MerionCares health services program, which is here when additional caregiving support makes the most sense for you and your loved one. Caring, personalized assistance is available as needed, right in the comfort of their Merion apartment home. 

MerionCares provides our residents with alternative support solutions to assisted living, offering our residents the chance to age in place in our community while also receiving the extra support and care that they need. This provides reassurance and peace of mind for spousal caregivers who no longer have to spend all their time and energy caring for their spouse. Instead, The Merion allows spouses to reconnect in new ways without sacrificing care and concern. 

Contact us today about MerionCares, and learn how The Merion can help older couples age in place together – even when caregiving services are required.