Resize text: plus minus

Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

3 issues people struggle with after moving a spouse into long-term care


September 25, 2017, by Paul Cavanagh,

Caregiving doesn’t necessarily stop when your spouse goes to live in a long-term care home. It just looks a little different, according to Joanne Nancekivell, a social worker at McCormick Home. She leads a support group for people whose spouses live in long-term care homes in London, Ontario.
When you’re no longer the one providing physical care to your spouse, you have the chance to step back and focus on being a husband or wife again. However, that’s sometimes easier said than done. Your relationship may have changed. Going back to the way things were may not be an option. You may need to figure out a new way of being with your spouse.
A good visit may include going for a walk together. Or it may involve listening to music. Or it may take place during mealtime. According to Nancekivell, there’s no magic formula that works for everyone. It may depend on what’s meaningful to you as a couple. Or it may depend on what your spouse is capable of now. “If your loved one doesn’t talk, come in during an activity,” she suggests, as one example. “That way you’re engaged as well.”
In the end, it’s a matter of finding what works for both of you. Getting suggestions from other people who are in the same situation can open up possibilities you may not have considered. A group like Nancekivell’s can be helpful that way. It can also provide important emotional support when facing issues that can be difficult to sort out on your own.
How frequently should I visit?
For instance, you may wonder how frequently you should visit, especially if you know someone else who visits their spouse every day. It’s easy to feel guilty that you’re not coming in enough. Nancekivell’s advice is not to worry what other people do; visit when it’s right for you. Your circumstances may be very different from that other person. Focus on the quality of your visits more than the quantity. Being part of a group can help you realize that what’s normal varies from person to person.
What should I say when friends or acquaintances ask about my spouse?
It’s often difficult to know how to respond to people who ask about your spouse. Are they asking simply to be polite or do they really want to know? Again, there’s no pat answer. Judging someone’s level of interest can be tricky. You may simply say “fine” and leave it at that. But if that’s your stock response, you may miss out on getting emotional support from someone who’s trying to reach out to you. Hearing what other people do when they find themselves in your situation can give you a few new “tricks.” It can also help you to accept that from time to time you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay.
Why am I still feeling guilty about putting my spouse in a long-term care home?
You and your spouse have likely experienced a series of losses. They may include the loss of health, the loss of independence, the loss of your previous life together, the loss of a home that you’ve had to sell. As an individual, you may also be having a hard time adjusting to the loss of your role as primary caregiver after your spouse moved into long-term care.
You might expect these feelings to subside with time, but it doesn’t always work that way. Well after the fact, you may be revisited by feelings of guilt over moving your spouse to a home. Nancekivell has seen this come up in her group. She’s heard people say, “I know it was the right thing to do, but should I have done it?” Or “I know (my spouse) is doing okay but could be doing so much better at home. Maybe I should take them back.”
It’s at times like these that it’s important to talk with others who’ve gone through a similar experience. They can help you think back to why your spouse is in long-term care in the first place and then reinforce that it really was the right decision. If you’re not a member of a group, then talking with a staff member – like a social worker – at the long-term care home where your spouse is living is another option.
Finding support in your community
If the long-term care home where your spouse is living doesn’t have a support group, check around to see whether another home close by offers one. (McCormick Home opens its group up to spouses of residents at other long-term care homes in the city of London.) You can use the Find Services tool on this website to look at a listing of long-term care homes in your community and explore other local caregiver support services.