I’m 70 and I feel trapped as a carer for my ill husband

I feel so guilty for thinking this way, but I can’t go on holidays any more and we never go out

PROBLEM: I think I might be depressed. I know that depression is underdiagnosed in older people, who are taught that they should be wiser and more accepting, but it’s the same as if you are 15 or 25 or 35. The emotions, the thinking and feelings are intensified now, because I know there is not much time left and I have no time to waste.

There was a period of time when the age difference between my husband and I did not matter, but now it is beginning to again, as I am 70 and my husband is 80; it is a big difference.

He does not want to do anything, like go away for weekends or go out with friends. I feel trapped in this situation. Is this it? Is my life over?

I feel so guilty for feeling this way, but I can’t go on holidays any more, we never go out for dinner, and he just wants to sit there. I can’t leave him because he is too ill. It’s terrible because no one is listening, as they think it is just the way things are and they are just getting on with their own lives.

I don’t want to bore people with my miseries but I can feel bitterness and rage growing in me. I even hear myself being nasty and snappy towards my husband and I hate this aspect of myself.

ADVICE: You might well be heading towards depression, but it seems that you are reacting to a severe crisis in your life, and perhaps your anger and rage are telling you that some action should be taken. There is your own personal situation and then the wider picture, where the intense emotions of older people are under-recognised and undertreated.

It is hard to imagine struggling to care for someone when you are very healthy yourself and feel able to deal with anything the world might throw. This is when we enter into the “for better or worse” part of the marriage contract.

However, when you are 70 and wanting to make the best of your able years, it is a different prospect, and good intentions can turn sour when faced with caring for someone who is incapacitated.

If you are to continue in good health, the situation you are in needs addressing. Taking time out – weekends away and nights out with our friends – can make us better carers. Is it possible for you to organise a meeting of people who might be able to support you – family, children, grandchildren or relatives – and see if you could first organise some time away for yourself? Then you would have time to recover and think your situation through.

There are a number of needs here: your husband’s need for constant care, your need for a viable social life and a societal need to support both of you.

A talk with your local public health nurse should alert you to the services in your area – this might be the time to activate this. If your husband agrees, you could avail of short-term respite care while you take a break.

This situation is likely to deteriorate, so some longer-term plans need to be put into place if both you and your husband’s needs are to be met in the future.

Of course, your husband’s needs are greater than yours at the moment, but feeling guilty about this will not improve anything. If you are feeling less trapped, it is likely that you will feel far more compassionate towards your husband, so both of you will benefit.

The loss of your social life together is painful for you, and you must allow time to grieve this. Having someone who will fully listen to you is a hugely important part of the recovery from grief, and it seems that you have shut down this avenue of support. Can you ask those close to you to listen and tell them that, while you may sound angry and bitter, it would be hugely helpful if they can listen without judgment and offer you a clearer space for thinking?

There is help available for older people in society. Have you contacted any of the support services? The Senior Helpline (1850-440444) is a good place to start, and Age Action Ireland (01-4756989) promotes positive ageing and better policies and services for older people. It might well be that you are outraged enough to take action on behalf of older spouses. If so you could offer your services to these agencies and turn your sense of injury into useful action.