While the caregiving role can be enormously rewarding, it also means a lot of sacrifice on the part of the caregiver and their family. Caregivers generally start taking on a few tasks at a time, however the need generally expands and with each increase, caregivers forfeit more of their personal lives. The average family caregiver provides nearly 18 to 20 hours of care a week in addition to holding down a job and managing a family. It is not unusual for caregivers to be forced to leave the workforce as needs escalate. Caregiving can last from less than a year to several decades
Just as overwhelming for a caregiver is the never-ending to-do list. Most caregivers face a landscape of too little support at too high a cost.
Caregivers who don’t get the help they need can wind up doing more than they are able to (emotionally, financially or physically) and end up with caregiver burnout. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
The symptom of caregiver burnout include:
Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
Changes in appetite, weight, or both
Changes in sleep patterns
Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones
Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
Getting sick more often
Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
Emotional and physical exhaustion
How can I prevent burnout?
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent caregiver burnout:
Find someone you trust — such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor — to talk to about your feelings and frustrations.
Take advantage of respite care services. Respite care provides a temporary break for caregivers. This can range from a few hours of in-home care to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Be realistic about your loved one’s disease, especially if it is a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Acknowledge that there may come a time when the patient requires nursing services or assisted living outside the family home.
Don’t forget about yourself because you’re too busy caring for someone else.
Talk to a professional elder law attorney to ensure that your loved one is getting any benefits they may be entitled to and that they have a long-term care plan in place.
Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
Accept your feelings. Having negative feelings — such as frustration or anger — about your responsibilities or the person for whom you are caring is normal. It does not mean you are a bad person or a bad caregiver.
Join a caregiver support group. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others in the same situation can help you manage stress, locate helpful resources, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation.
Where can I turn for help for caregiver burnout?
If you are already suffering from stress and depression, seek medical attention. Stress and depression are treatable disorders. If you want to prevent burnout, consider turning to the following resources for help with your caregiving:
Geriatric Care Managers – Geriatric Care Managers assist families with creating and putting into place a long-term care plan. They can help the family with all aspects of that plan, including finding home health care or nursing home placement.
Home health services — These agencies provide home health aids and nurses for short-term care, if your loved one is acutely ill. Some agencies provide short-term respite care.
Adult day care — These programs offer a place for seniors to socialize, engage in a variety of activities, and receive needed medical care and other services.
Nursing homes or assisted living facilities — These institutions sometimes offer short-term respite stays to provide caregivers a break from their caregiving responsibilities.
Caregiver support services — These include support groups and other programs that can help caregivers recharge their batteries, meet others coping with similar issues, find more information, and locate additional resources.
Some content from: The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.