Being a Caregiver to your HusbandBeing a Caregiver to your Husband

Marriages change over time, from the romance of the early years to the companionship of the retirement years. One major change many couples experience but few are prepared for is the transition to a caregiver-care recipient relationship. Either partner can need care, but women make up the overwhelming majority of informal caregivers, especially among older adults. Caregiver advocates say looking after a spouse can provide certain benefits, but it also presents risks that caregivers must manage to maintain their well-being along with that of their husbands.

Caring for your husband? You’re not alone

About 20% of American adults provide informal care to older relatives in any year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Of those caregivers, 2/3 are women, and on average they provide more hours of care each week than male caregivers. (An exception is LGBT male caregivers, who report providing more hours of care than male caregivers overall.) About one quarter of all older caretakers are looking after a spouse or partner.

The economic value of all this caregiving is estimated at more than $450 billion per year. There are intangible benefits, too: about half of caregivers surveyed by DHHS report feeling good about themselves and more appreciative of life because of their caregiving activities. But researchers have found that caregivers are prone to some health problems related to the stress of balancing care with personal time, work, and other responsibilities.

How caregiver stress can affect your health

Caregiver stress” isn’t just feeling busy. The impact of caregiving responsibilities has measureable effects on caregivers’ health. Caregivers often report letting sleep, healthy eating, and exercise fall by the wayside while they care for a loved one. And older women who care for their spouses are 6 times more likely than average to struggle with depression and anxiety.

Beyond the general toll of stress, specific care activities like lifting and transferring a disabled partner can raise the risk of back injuries. Dementia patients who become confused or agitated may strike caregivers. For all of these reasons, it’s important for caregivers to know when to take a break.

Signs that you need a break

Symptoms of depression or anxiety (trouble sleeping, lack of enjoyment of daily life, extreme fatigue, panic attacks, or social isolation) are signals that it’s time to ask for help and to see a doctor. Back pain and other injuries are also clear indicators that you need help, along with general fatigue, constant irritability, or feelings of being overwhelmed.

Ways to reduce your stress and keep care quality high

Depending on your level of stress, your budget, and the type of care your husband needs, you may be able to put together a patchwork of in-home help that includes grocery delivery, house cleaning, yard maintenance, and in-home care for a few hours each day or each week.

Respite care is another option, and it’s available in many forms. Some home health care agencies provide overnight and weekend care in addition to care during daytime hours. Many senior centers offer drop-off adult day care during work hours. If you need (or want) to travel for several days or longer, many assisted living and nursing facilities offer short-term respite care housing.

As your husband’s care needs change, though, it may be time to consider assisted living or skilled nursing care. While aging together in place is an ideal many couples hope for, a professionally staffed facility can be the best environment for people who need specialized dementia care, frequent physical transfers, or high-maintenance daily treatment routines. The change in scene can allow you to simply spend time with your husband, and spend time taking care of yourself, too.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


  1. Annie June 30, 2018 Reply

    I am 79 and my husband is 80. He has vascular dementia and I have had breast cancer three times; the last time being two years ago. I feel I have never really recouperated as I have been a full time care giver the whole time these last three years. He is active and always wanting to do something and I am exhausted. Even though he goes to a day program three days a week now I still am stressed and anxious. It is affecting me emotionally and physically. Even with the day program he wants to go out at night. He gets turned around and lost easily. He doesn’t seem ready for a nursing home but I’m about ready to give up. I long to die. He’s quite good physically, despite serious heart issues. But he has no memory and has great difficulty processing what you say to him, so mostly I don’t bother. Even watching TV is not interesting to him any more except Wheel of Fortune. He just likes to be on the go and I just can’t keep going any more. I even sense that my mind is going.

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