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Health, Sports & Psychology

Caring within marriage

Updated Friday, 17th July 2009

Help The Aged estimate that there are between five and six million unpaid carers in the UK looking after a relative or friend. Further, over one million of these carers are themselves over retirement age. In this category falls 5% of people 85 years or older. Many of the older carers may being looking after their spouse or partner.

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As we see here, acting as carer for a husband or wife can be complex:

An older couple Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Thinkstock
An older couple - posed by models [Image: Thinkstock]

Richard and Jenny

Richard and Jenny Hope live in a one-bedroom apartment in private retirement housing in a rural location where they moved ten years ago to be closer to their daughter in London who works full-time as a secondary school teacher. Their son and his family live in Bath.

Richard, at 89 years, is physically pretty fit but he has been diagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes and in recent months his mental state has changed, becoming very attached to some people and not others.

Jenny, 83, on the other hand, suffers from osteoporosis and has a curvature of the spine. She also has an underactive thyroid and in recent years her eyesight has gradually changed through macular degeneration. Jenny is small and frail and would not be able to lift Richard if he fell.

Over recent years they have found that they are beginning to need more support than they can ask of their daughter, but they find that they are seen in different ways by health professionals.

Because of Richard’s diabetes he is able to have a chiropodist and the service of a carer who comes and helps him to shower once a week. Jenny also needs chiropody because she cannot to this herself, but she does not seem to be entitled to the service, so she has had to arrange it herself and pay privately for it.

They often wonder why their similar needs are viewed so differently, especially as Jenny feels that despite needing more medical care than Richard, she supports him more than he supports her on a practical daily basis.

Jenny has always been ’the carer’ in their family, she has had a range of part-time jobs over the years but really sees herself as a housewife and since his retirement she has cared for Richard.

They both receive Attendance Allowance and they have organised extra formal care but when they are on their own, Jenny now finds that Richard is beginning to treat her as just one of the carers. They are losing their shared history, Jenny is become increasingly upset and the family are wondering what to do next?

Their situation is not unique. Jenny and Richard’s case shows that caring can be undertaken by a range of people at different times: those who are paid to care and those unpaid carers – spouses, family and friends.

Caring for a spouse can be an emotional experience where misunderstandings, anger and guilt can sit alongside duty and love. People can feel appreciated and unappreciated – it isn’t easy. Emotions conflict.




Further reading


Older Population: A Guide to finding and using statistics
Phil Rossall & Dan Emerson, published by Help the Aged

Support organisations

Care for the family – offering free online information, 24 hours a day on many aspects of family life


Carers UK – providing a voice, advice and support for carers

Assistance for people with specific conditions

Diabetes UK – the largest organisation in the UK working for people with diabetes, funding research, campaigning and helping people live with the condition

National Osteoporosis Society – the only UK charity dedicated to improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of osteoporosis in the UK

Royal National Institute for the Blind – charity providing a good range of information for blind or partially sighted people – offering advice and information on everything about thyroids and thyroid problems





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