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  • 12% of caregivers are spouses
  • Average age of spousal caregiver: 62; 46% are age 75 or older
  • Spousal caregiversspend 45 hours per week providing care
  • 72% report a high burden of care
  • 59% are performing medical/nursing tasks without training
  • Wives constitute 76% of the spousal caregiver population

Source: Caregiving in the US: 2015 Report, The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, 6/15. Most recent data available.

We’ve all started DIY home projects that spiral into disasters. You think, “Why should I pay someone for help when I can handle it myself?” Then things don’t go as planned. It ends up taking more time, money, and patience than you’d hoped for—all because you didn’t get help.

Likewise, your clients who provide spousal caregiving might have a DIY mindset but need help due to exhaustion. You’re in a position to identify clients struggling with caregiving of a spouse or partner. Use these three approaches to help them effectively cope with the stress of caregiving, and turn a daunting task into a manageable one. 


What We'll Cover

  1. How to avoid isolation
  2. How caregivers can get help
  3. Get relief with respite care


First, How to avoid isolation

Maintaining a strong social network can protect spousal caregivers from isolation. Because of their dedication, many caregivers focus so much on caring for their spouses that they neglect caring for themselves. Also, spousal caregivers are more likely to experience depression than caregivers who aren't spouses.1

Learn to recognize clients who aren’t taking time for themselves. If they’re becoming increasingly isolated, suggest these steps to strengthen their social network:

  • Connect spousal caregivers with others in their situation
    Offer to make connections between other clients who are spousal caregivers. Caregivers who've had similar challenges can provide support and information.
  • Recommend support groups—online and in-person
    Support groups can provide validation and encouragement, as well as problem-solving strategies.  Members understand what fellow caregivers may be going through. Support groups can also be a good place to create meaningful friendships.

    More than a quarter of caregivers seek support on an online forum right after they begin caring for their loved one. By the end of their first year of caregiving, nearly half turn to an online community for assistance. Below are some popular support groups.

    • Well Spouse Association is a national organization made up of spousal caregivers coping with a broad range of medical conditions
    • AgingCare.com has a section on their site where caregivers can connect with elder-care experts and family caregivers
    • Care.com offers caregiving tips, advice, and support
    • Eldercare.gov offers resources for free caregiver counseling and support groups
  • Help spousal caregivers stay socially engaged
    Recommend that caregiving spouses go places or do things they enjoy. If they like to read, they could join a book club. They could also join a gym or take a fitness or sports class: golf, tennis, tai chi. The more it involves contact with other people, the better. Meetup.com can help connect clients with people who have similar interests.


Second, How Caregivers Can Get Help

Let’s face it, it’s not easy to ask for help. Many spousal caregivers are reluctant to ask family and friends for help because they don’t want to inconvenience them. Caregivers also tend to give others the impression that they’re doing fine, masking the need for help. Sometimes family and friends are willing to help but don't realize caregivers need it. Ask clients if they've avoided asking for help. If they have, coach them on how to ask. Here’s how:

  • How to Get Help From Family and Friends
    Caring for a spouse is more effective using a team approach. Suggest these tips to caregivers to get help from family or friends:2
    • Start with a one-on-one conversation
    • Be specific about tasks they need help with
    • Make sure the person understands what would be most helpful for both you and the caregiving recipient
    • Ask the person if they’d like to help, and if so, in what way

    For additional ways clients can request help from family, check out this article.

  • Get help from paid support
    Spousal caregivers tend to feel less comfortable hiring professionals to provide care for their loved one. Common concerns about professional caregivers include:3
    • They won’t care about their loved one
    • They might steal
    • They aren't affordable
    • Feel they should manage things on their own

If clients can afford it, suggest they hire an aide to help with cleaning the house, cooking meals, running errands, or providing nursing duties—whatever will lighten their workload.

You can also refer clients to geriatric-care managers who can assist caregivers with making financial decisions, managing medical and housing needs, and ensuring the safety of their loved one.


Third, Get relief with respite care

We all need a break from the daily grind, especially spousal caregivers, who spend an average of 44.6 hours a week providing care.4 Respite care simply means someone else provides relief, allowing the caregiver to have some time for him or herself. Unfortunately, many caregivers don;t take advantage of this service. Fifty-five percent of the spousal caregivers surveyed get no outside help at all from family, friends, or home health aides.5

Respite care can be provided at home by a friend, family member, volunteer, or by paid services in a care setting, such as adult day care or a residential facility.

Spousal caregivers resist the idea of respite care for many reasons, including guilt, cost, being too busy to plan, and reluctance to change their loved one’s routine, which increases the likelihood of burnout.

For clients who are resistant, let them know:

  • Respite is good for them and their loved one
  • Being too busy to track down a respite care provider is a sign that they need a break
  • A break now can ward off a burnout later
  • Respite care is often covered by insurance or an agency such as the Department of Veterans Affairs or Medicare.

Here are some links to respite options in your area:



Source: Caring for a Sick Spouse Can Shake a Marriage to Its Core, AARP, 11/12/19

"There are only four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers; those who are currently caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregiving."

Rosalynn Carter
Former First Lady and founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving

Does helping spousal caregiving make business sense?

According to the Dr. Joe Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, “Financial services and advice has traditionally been product based—focused on a successful investment strategy to provide the resources necessary for retirement. That approach is certainly not incorrect, but extended longevity and the new context of aging have made this value proposition incomplete to clients.”

Clients will increasingly search for solutions to the many jobs of longevity, including spousal caregiving. Planning and solving for these jobs presents a new landscape for what clients need, want, and ultimately will pay an advisory firm to provide. Advisors who meet the needs of longevity will enjoy the greatest degree of client intimacy and have the deepest relationship with their clients.

Remember Three Things to Help Caregivers Avoid Burnout

First, caregivers should avoid becoming isolated. Suggest they connect with other caregivers, join a support group, or go places where they can meet new friends. Second, they shouldn't do all the caregiving themselves. Suggest they get help from friends or family. Third, they can use respite care to get a break. They need some time for themselves.


Help Clients Get Caregiving Done with a Team

The bottom line is that your clients can’t care well for others if they don’t care for themselves. Like DIY home projects, caregiving can get more complex and stressful than clients expect. Suggest some of the ideas provided to help them build a team and get the help they need.



Next Steps

1 Download or order the 8,000 Days Workbook below
2 Within two weeks, identify clients who are providing spousal caregiving now or may be in the future
3 Within a month, offer to make connections between clients who are spousal caregivers


More MIT AgeLab insights on meeting the needs of longevity >

Order Now >

1A comparison of psychological well-being and quality of life between spouse and non-spouse caregivers in patients with head and neck cancer: a 6-month follow-up study, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 6/28/18

2Family Caregiving, helpguide.org, 7/19

39 Common Concerns About Hiring In-Home Care, agingcare.com, 2/5/20

4The emotional lives of caregivers, American Psychological Association, July/August 2019

5Caring for a Sick Spouse Can Shake a Marriage to Its Core, AARP, 11/12/19


The MIT AgeLab is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds.

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