Have you ever heard of caregiver burnout? When you take on the commitment of caring for a loved one, burnout is a serious concern to watch out for. But what is caregiver burnout, and how can you prevent it?
Whether it’s a spouse, a parent, or another family member, many of us at some point in our lives will care for an elderly loved one at home. Family members, especially adult daughters and granddaughters, are a foundational part of senior care in America.
Caregiver Burnout Comes From Caring
Most of us expect that children will look after their parents when the time comes. But caregiving takes a toll, even for the most willing carer. The adult child of a senior parent may have to juggle kids, career, marriage, and more. There’s a house to maintain–maybe two, if mom or dad is still living at home. To top it all off there are the financial and medical worries that suddenly need to be addressed.
No matter how much we love someone, over time all the stresses that come with caregiving can add up. In fact, they add up faster when love is involved. The strong emotions that bond you to your mom or dad make caregiving a high-stakes activity.
When combined with a lifestyle that doesn’t include healthy coping and self-care, stress and exhaustion just keep accumulating. Eventually this can lead to caregiver burnout.
So, What is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is a stress-related condition that happens when long-term caregiving for an ill or elderly person leads to exhaustion. This exhaustion can be physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of all three. Without relief, caregivers can become more and more overwhelmed. They often feel alone, unappreciated, or even unable to continue without help.
It’s not a rare problem. One study found that 40% of home caregivers reported levels of stress that put them at risk of burnout.
The symptoms of caregiver burnout can vary. However, they often include depression, irritability, and emotional withdrawal. Many burned-out carers say they struggle to keep giving the kind of care that used to be easy for them. Over time, caregiver burnout can limit a person’s ability to look after their loved one. In extreme cases, it can even lead to elder abuse.
People experiencing burnout begin to manage the strain of caregiving by emotionally shutting down. Unfortunately, shutting down may help reduce stress but it also reduces empathy, patience, and compassion.
Preventing Caregiver Burnout
Fortunately, caregiver burnout is preventable. These proactive steps for stress management and support can help reduce the risk of burnout.
- Take breaks and use respite. Whether it’s a friend, an aide, or a residential respite program, putting down the burden of caregiving occasionally and taking time off can help reduce the risk of emotional shutdown.
- Take care of your body. Eating right, sleeping well, exercising, and taking time for rest and relaxation all help offset the stress that can overwhelm you.
- Find a support group. While it may not always feel like it, you’re not alone. Talking your situation through with others in similar places can give you the support you need to keep going.
- Know what to expect. Many seniors with conditions that require care do fine at home. However, some things will get worse with time and may require assisted living or skilled nursing care. Know what to expect and have a plan to prevent getting in over your head.
What are the Signs of Caregiver Burnout?
You may be reading this and wondering if caregiver burnout is already affecting you. If so, don’t worry; with help and support, caregiver burnout can be reversed. Know the warning signs of caregiver burnout so that you know when to take action and seek help.
- Anger or frustration with your parent or spouse
- Denial about the seriousness of your parent or spouse’s condition
- Feelings of sadness or depression
- Fatigue or exhaustion that interferes with caregiving tasks or daily life
- New health problems like getting sick more often
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability or mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- A feeling that you no longer enjoy the friends or activities that you used to
Caring for a frail or ailing loved one may be the hardest job you will ever do. You may feel that it isn’t right to take time or space for yourself when someone depends on you. However as a caregiver, remember that self-care is a key component of caregiving. If your own health suffers, everyone you care for will suffer in turn.
Are you concerned about burnout and looking for help? Contact us today to learn more about respite care, support groups, and care planning for your loved one.