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woman with her sick husband in the hospital

Help for Taking Care of a Sick Spouse

Self-Care & Mental Health

There's no way to prepare for a serious illness in the family, especially one that seems to come out of the blue. We all learn how to cope with minor ailments as we age, but there's no set path for navigating all the aspects of a more serious condition and its effects on the family. And the truth is every family copes differently. However, there a few things to keep in mind when caring for your loved one.

This isn't just a major life change for the sick individual. It affects everyone in the household, especially you, as the patient's spouse or significant other, who may face new responsibilities of caring for your partner.

Caring for your loved one
Depending on the condition, a person may be stuck in bed for most of the day with limited ability to engage in simple tasks, such as cooking, bathing and dressing. The first step of caretaking is making sure your partner's basic physical needs are being met. You may need to rearrange your work schedule and other responsibilities so you can prepare meals, draw warm baths and help your loved one get dressed.

And remember, you don't have to do it perfectly—and you don't have to do it all yourself. Ordering takeout or hiring cleaning help is acceptable, as is asking friends and relatives to help. Avoid getting overwhelmed by the daily tasks. Consider designating one day a week for laundry and cooking meals that can be frozen and reheated later.

In addition, if your partner's illness requires frequent trips to see a doctor or stays in the hospital, you may find yourself spending a lot of time in unfamiliar environments. Getting to know the staff at the medical facilities by being friendly and considerate may help make the experience more comfortable for everyone.

One dilemma you may face is whether to stay overnight at a hospital with your spouse for an extended time or to leave him or her and sleep at home. That's a personal decision and one that includes considering your own ability to get the rest you need in that environment so you'll have the energy to cope with your new responsibilities.

Besides being there for your loved one physically, you may have to figure out how to best communicate with him or her. There will likely be costly medical bills, as well as decisions regarding treatment and taking time off from work that need to be discussed. Your spouse may be reluctant to talk about such matters and may be unwilling or unable to deal with them on top of the health issues. This may leave a great deal of responsibility on your shoulders. If he or she is able, perhaps you can ask your spouse if there is a time you can set aside to discuss these practical matters, instead of bringing them up regularly.

When it comes to expressing your concerns, you can try writing them down in a journal instead of overwhelming your spouse with them all at once. Then, you can pick and choose which ones are worth talking about.

When speaking directly to an ill loved one, try to speak in a softer tone and use "I" statements. Also, don't forget to inquire about how he or she feels. It's important to treat your partner like an adult, even if the rest of your duties feel more like mothering.

Compromising may be much more efficient than trying to tell your partner what to do and will help them to rebuild some of the confidence they may have lost in recent days.

Also, don't be afraid to ask for outside help. Maybe there is another family member or a friend who is skilled at finances and can help with the paperwork. Or perhaps your best friend is an amazing cook—take her up on her offer for a homemade dinner.

Taking care of yourself

One of the scariest aspects of taking care of a sick spouse is not knowing how long it will be until things get back to normal or wondering if they ever will. Also, you'll probably be coping with a flurry of mixed emotions, from worry to stress to guilt, making it easy to get overwhelmed.

With the patient not being able to work, it may be up to you to provide for the household. However, this may be difficult if you also need to be there for your significant other 24/7. Financial problems in addition to an ill partner can place a tremendous amount of stress on an individual.

This is why it's crucial that you learn to take care of yourself and manage your mental well-being. It may feel like you have no time for yourself, but it's important to consider what small things you can do to employ self-care. Perhaps it's doing deep breathing in bed for 10 minutes in the morning or at night, finding time to take a short walk outdoors or watching your favorite TV show when you get home in the evening.

The most important thing to remember is that you don't need to go it alone. Finding a support network can make all the difference. Caring for a sick loved one may be a new experience for you, and your friends or family members may have trouble understanding. You might be thinking that no one knows what it's like, and you may be tentative to take advice and accept sympathy for your situation.

However, building a support system can be what it takes to keep you positive and emotionally healthy. Find another caretaker to talk to, whether it is in an online community, a community support group or a caring friend.

It's important not to keep your feelings bottled up, which is why you should consistently talk to people you love and trust. If you can't shake the feeling that you are burdening them or aren't feeling understood, you might find it helpful to seek the services of a therapist, who can offer you unbiased guidance. Moreover, professionals are trained to help you deal with situations like this and have likely dealt with others in similar circumstances.

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