I’m retired and take care of my wife who has Parkinson’s disease...

Now, my physician wants me to have some tests that could land me in the hospital. I get conflicting advice from our adult children and my wife’s family. What’s your advice?

A recent report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimated that there are 44.4 million caregivers who provide unpaid care to another adult in nearly 23 million households across the country. Nearly one in five of these caregivers provide more than 40 hours of care per week Caregiving can be a daunting task.

According to the AARP report, nearly half of those caregivers who provide more than 40 hours of care per week reported that they had difficulty managing their level of stress and more than one-third said that their caregiving responsibilities had a negative impact on their health. In your situation, the first thing you need to understand is the importance of your own well-being. While it may seem better to postpone your own medical care, the opposite is actually true. Taking care of your own health concerns is really the same as directly taking care of your wife.

Consider this. You’ve probably taken on this responsibility because you firmly believe that you can provide the best level of care for your wife and you want to do everything you can to keep her at home with you. If you ignore your own health and you become seriously ill – or even pass away – howlikely is it that anyone else will be able to step in and care for your wife as you have?

At the same time, there are some steps you can take to allow you the time to take care of your own health concerns. Have you considered hiring a paid caregiver? Keep in mind that this should be a gradual process. Initially, you should plan to remain at home during the paid caregiver’s visits. This gives you and, more importantly your wife, time to adjust to having this new person in your home. You and your wife want to reach a level of comfort where the caregiver seems more like a part of your family than an outside employee.

If you have financial concerns about hiring a caregiver, contact your area office on aging. That office can help direct you to programs that may be able to provide funds for up to 15 hours of paid caregiver services per week.

Another option to consider is adult medical day care. These senior centers will provide transportation to and from their location. While there, your wife can participate in appropriate activities in a safe environment with medical supervision.

Any one of these options may work for you, or you may need to combine them. The goal is to establish a support system that you and your wife can rely on that will help you to stay together at home for many years.

Originally published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 12/08

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