ColumnistsLong-term Care

My Husband Has Alzheimer’s. Should We Get a Divorce?

Caregiving: questions & answers

By Susan Suben

Being a caregiver is the most difficult job you will ever have. With it come countless questions that require answers to ensure that you do not compromise your needs or those of the person you are caring for. Questions can revolve around finances, emotions, family dynamics, etc. The very nature of caregiving requires adaption and compromise. It is ever-evolving. Resources and support are needed at every stage. I would like to share with you some of the questions that have been asked of me over the years as I have helped families deal with a long-term care illness. My answers may help you.

I live out of town. I’m noticing that mom is acting differently when I visit her. What should I do?

As individuals age it becomes more difficult for them to ask for help. They want to remain independent for as long as possible even to the detriment of their health and safety. It is our responsibility as adult children to notice changes that are interfering with our parents’ ability to perform their activities of daily living.

Are they: Forgetful? Confused? Becoming introverted? Mismanaging their finances? Forgetting to take their medication? Well-groomed? Is the house in disarray? Is there spoiled food in the refrigerator? These are red flags that should not be overlooked.

Now, it is your job to take care of your parents like they took care of you. Talk to them about what you are noticing without hurting them. Ensure them that you are not trying to take away their independence but offering to make things easier for them by perhaps getting a housekeeper, medication dispenser or emergency response system. This conversation should allow them to participate in a very transitional time in their lives.

My husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Should we get a divorce?

You married the person who you wanted to spend the rest of your life with through sickness and health. Hopefully, your vows are as important to you now as they were when you walked down the aisle and divorce would be inconceivable when your loved one needs you the most.

However, a long-term care illness can jeopardize retirement savings as well as the well spouse’s standard of living. Many times couples have to spend down their assets and come to rely on Medicaid. Divorce may be a viable solution to avoid the loss of assets. Only an attorney can advise you properly about the legal and financial ramifications of doing this.

To avoid this question, incorporate long-term care planning early on as part of your retirement plan. Not planning can lead to detrimental consequences for your family.

I help both of my parents on a daily basis. My siblings do not offer me much help. I am angry, tired and frustrated. What can I do?

Individuals deal with illness in different ways. Some people rise to the occasion and no task is insurmountable. Others will withdraw because they just can’t bear to see a loved one incapacitated or suffer losing them.

Siblings have different personalities and emotions especially when confronted with a situation that exposes their parents’ frailties. You cannot expect your siblings to react the same way you do. In order to make caregiving a family responsibility, focus on each of your siblings’ strengths. Hold a family meeting. Let your siblings know what tasks you are struggling with. Maybe they can’t help with the daily hands-on care but perhaps one of them can manage your parents’ finances, make doctor appointments or clean the house. If you find the task that is most manageable and compatible with each sibling’s personality and emotional threshold, it can reduce the overwhelming frustrations you are dealing with as a caregiver.

My mom is on oxygen 24/7. She has trouble dressing and bathing but insists she is managing. She has a long-term care insurance policy but does not want to go on claim. How do I convince her to access her benefits?

As I mentioned above, no one wants to lose their independence. It is very hard for someone to come to the realization that their energy, physical capacity or mindset is diminishing.

When I cared for my mother, it reached a point where she was no longer safe at home. Instead of focusing on her functional inabilities, I told her that because I loved her, I was concerned about her safety. This approach convinced her that she needed help because she didn’t want me to worry. When it’s time for your parents to relinquish some of their independence, always be respectful and inclusive when developing their plan of care.

As caregivers, I’m certain you have new questions every day. Caregiving is never a straight road. Make the journey easier by trying to be prepared and plotting a map that provides guidance and support along the way.

Susan Suben, MS, CSA, is president of Long Term Care Associates, Inc. and Elder Care Planning. She is a consultant for Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Company. She can be reached at 800-422-2655 or by email at