Caregiving For a Bipolar Spouse: What to Do When Dad Is Worn Out

Last updated: August 16, 2011

Mom has bipolar disease and depression and has recently been diagnosed with dementia. Dad took early retirement to care for her, and for the past ten years he's had to almost isolate her (and himself) just to keep her stable.

A few months ago Mom had a really bad episode, called the police on Dad, and made a lot of unjustified accusations. It took months to clear that up, and I think it hurt Dad emotionally. She's been in a rehabilitation center for the past two months due to a bad fall that broke her collarbone and shoulder (she was trying to "escape" and fell down their condo stairs).

She's scheduled for release at the end of the month, but Dad says he just can't go back to caring for her. He says she's not safe at home no matter how hard he tries, but I think it's more that he's just worn out.

My sisters say that it's his responsibility to care for her and that they couldn't bear to see Mom "in a home" -- but they're not willing to take her in. I say the man has done all he can and should do and deserves a decent life.

How do I get my sisters to see that Mom needs more care and supervision than Dad (or any of us) can give?

I wouldn't focus on trying to convince your sisters of anything. Spend your energy and support helping both your parents through this difficult caregiving transition.

Your sisters have a rather sentimental view of marriage and are holding onto that "till death do us part" line without considering that there are many ways to love, care, and nurture a marriage -- under the same roof or not -- and that it may not be safe or wise for your mother to live at home. I'm sure your dad would rather your mom be healthy and happy, at home with him and safe, but that's just not reality right now. So give him the support he needs to make some tough choices.

It sounds as if your mom's care has escalated beyond what one person can manage, and it takes a mature person to be honest and face the fact that her care needs have changed. Tell your dad again and again what a loving, supportive husband he's been and that it's OK to begin to accept help. Many care facilities, community centers, and churches offer support groups. It would be great if he could visit one and see that he's not the only spouse having to deal with this issue.

Help him find a place where your mom can stay that's safe and meets most of her care needs. Know that she might be unhappy at first. Also, know that your sisters may balk -- but this isn't about them, so try your best not to get sucked into a conversation about "what Dad should do." Just be matter of fact with them and explain that your mom's care and your dad's ability to provide that care have reached a crisis of sorts, that things need to change, and that your dad (with the aid of your mom's doctors and care team) are figuring out the best situation for her.

Which leads me to her care team -- does your dad have a support system? He needs to rally all her various care providers so that everyone is on the same page. He may need a geriatric care manager or someone who can advise him on what care facility is best for your mom. It's important that it be nearby but also that it provide the type of care her condition warrants. Even though you may have to pay for this type of assessment up front, it will cost you less in the long run if you don't have to move her time and again because a given facility isn't a good fit.

Your dad's going to doubt himself at times, so support him through these changes. Help him adjust and find new ways to continue to love and care for his wife even though she's living somewhere else. Encourage all your family members to be visible presences at your mom's care home, to set aside how they feel about it, and just be there for her. People who have regular visitors receive better care.

Then help your dad get back out into the world again. Address his health needs, since many caregivers neglect their own care. Perhaps he can join a walking or photography club, or go to the local senior center for classes, activities, and the chance to make new friends.

It's a big change for everyone, so expect a few hiccups along the way. Just try to be there for your parents, since they're affected the most. And know that you and your sisters are going to display all kinds of emotions about the situation. It's a type of grieving process, so be patient and use heaps of humor and hugs to help everyone adjust.

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6 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

11 months ago

I am only 28 years old and my husband has been out of work snice snice September 2013. Mainly Mainly because I can not manage on my own anymore. I have a very complicated disability (mental) and I have endometriosis, been going threw lots of of surgeries. We have become isolated to avoid me having an episode. We have an 8yr old boy,27month old girl,17month old girl. I carry a lot of guilt. I want to be self dependable. At the very least take care of the children I brought life to. Being pregnant practicaly for 2 years gave me post pardum phycosis. The it triggered my PTSD to cause a rare involuntary movement disorder. I want to be well. I try my best and I still need care. Super dad...I call him I worn out and we are broke. Christmas is around the corner. We do are best to stay postive. He tries so hard to help me avoid another episode. I have compounded PTSD, scitsoefftive disorder, and ADD. I feel bad for those who dedicate their life to being a care giver. Just so you all know I really wish I wasn't sick. I wish I could care for myself. I feel so guilty. Yet I have to not stop and think or I'll trigger another episode for my husband. The only thing I know how to do or can do is avoid the extra work of causing an episode.

about 3 years ago

When I lefty comment yesterday, I wasent sure if I was sayin what I ment in a clear way. Im not saying that your pop, has to make all the desishions for your mom because he is her care giver. What I ment was that You have to make the hard choices because your pop has done it for 10 years, and he must be under so much stress, and your sibling dosent help out , she just thinks you pop should continue caring for your mom. You gota look out for you dad. He needs to rest now. I really wish the best for all of you, because I know for a fact that I could not continue being a 24-7 live in car giver for 10 years.

about 3 years ago

I wana why the people who are not helping with there parents with dementa , or alzheimers, are always the first to say 'I dont want (fill in the blank) to go to a care center to live". but these people havent lifted a finger to help the care giver and wont take there parent to there own house? some siblings are selfish and dont want to share the responsability or caring for a parent, but thay fell free to tell the sibling who is taking care of a parent, how the cow ate the cabbage! in my opinion if a sibling dosent show eany intrest in there pareent at all the sibling who is the care giver should do what that think is best for there parent, regardless of what the other says. weather its to place them some place or keep them home,as long as the parent is not being physicaly, or mentaly abused, or neglected in eany way, its up to the care giver the best way to handel the situation.

about 3 years ago

Thank you for all of you insights. Mom is doing the best she can and I just hae to trust her to tell me when she needs help. That's where we are at right now. My brother who lives close by them is of the mind that "She (mom) made this commitment and this is her vow; in sickness and health." I feel like he could be more involved and helpful but he feels they need to make it by themselves as long as possible. Being so far away it's hard to know just how things are there. I have to be patient and do what I can to keep moms spirit up thru the phone, letters and small gifts to brighten her day. It's all I really can do right now. it help to hear the experiences that you all have had.

Anonymous said about 3 years ago

My Dad passed this year of alzheimer's. My Mom had a terrible time when it came to putting him in the nursing home. But one day, I finally told her "I can't help him, but I can you." Mom was physically & emotionally going down. I told her I wasn't ready to lose both of them. This is what happens, the caregiver is exhausted. I watched my grandpa do the same thing with my maternal grandma, who also had alzheimers. My grandpa passed first. Your dad needs help. It will be hard for all to put her in a home, but it does become easier. This isn't about your sisters. It's about what is best for both of your parents. Good Luck! Praying...

about 3 years ago

Enter "Mom's" doctor. When my MIL exhibited very strange behavior while visiting her younger son and his family, she was admitted to the hospital. After tests determined her physical and mental condition, the attending physician said he would not release her unless she went straight to a nursing home. My husband had just been declared disabled. Mom lived in our home for five years and became more and more demanding of my husband because he was at home all day. We could not care for her any more. She needed specialized care. It was hard on everyone involved. There's a great feeling of loss. We visited her in the nursing home several times a week and brought treats. Make sure your mother is touched often. Hold her hand. The Family Advisor has given you excellent advice.

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