Being a caregiver for an elder loved one can be rewarding. However, from time to time some caregivers experience chronic fatigue and burnout as a result of caring for an elder parent or loved one.
Additionally, for some caregivers, especially those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, the threat to one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellness is an even greater threat long-term. Indeed, these caregivers are at a greater risk of experiencing caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout occurs when the burden and the stress from caregiving becomes overwhelming and negatively affects the mental health and well-being of the caregiver. The caregiver may feel alone and unappreciated.
At some point, almost every caregiver experiences some measure of distress. If this happens and it is not addressed, the caregiver will likely experience burnout.
It should be noted that burnout can be harmful to the individual receiving personal care and to the caregiver’s own health and well-being.
Experiencing one or more of the following symptoms may indicate that a caregiver is at risk of burning out.
When a caregiver experiences overwhelming worry thoughts, usually about the future and other everyday concerns such as finances.
Feeling irritable, impatient, and directing outbursts towards an aging loved one or parent receiving your care or even directing outbursts at people around you.
Feeling hopeless, helpless, depressed, or mentally exhausted as a result of caring for a loved one.
Changes in eating habits where you eat more or less than usual and gain or lose weight.
When you are unable to fall asleep, stay asleep, or even get restful sleep.
Always feeling alone, as if your friends and other family members and loved ones are leaving you alone to fend for yourself.
You start pulling away from activities you previously enjoyed and not even trying new things.
You are always feeling tired to get out of bed and have difficulty getting through the day.
In the process, the caregiver’s mental health and wellness can deteriorate considerably. You may be unable to focus and concentrate on work.
The caregiver often experiences palpitation, unusual heart rhythm, hypertension, etc.
Caregivers may also encounter stomach aches, constipation, and other stomach issues as well.
Providing care for someone you love is a part of every caregiver's legacy. Unfortunately, over time the caregiver can forget to prioritize self-care.
As a result, some family caregivers find they are in fact putting the needs of loved ones first, thus placing them at a higher risk for burnout. It is important to remember that burnout does not occur all at once. In fact, caregiver burnout occurs in three stages.
The following outlines the three stages of caregiver burnout:
Informal caregivers are often considered to be resilient. As a result, the idea of caregiver stress is an afterthought.
The truth is for many family caregivers your mental health is being negatively impacted, as a result of a loved one's illness and not having physical or emotional support.
In this stage, the caregiver starts to feel the frustration arising due to the loved one's declining health or slow progress. The effort they make seems to go in vain, although the declining health condition of the loved one has nothing to do with the care being provided. One starts to feel the stress, frustration, and anxiety that leads to caregiver burnout.
The signs of caregiver stress include increased irritation, frustration, or annoyance with minor issues. Some caregivers find they are unable to sleep well, grind their teeth when sleeping, feel uneasy, worry all the time, and feel restless. Some caregivers also forego working due to mental exhaustion as a result of caring for an aging parent or loved one.
Caregivers must take it seriously and make an appointment with the healthcare professional to resolve these health issues.
Caregiver burden is a stage when emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion results in outbursts due to the constant caregiver stress. In this stage, it is very difficult for a caregiver to fulfill his caregiving responsibilities or continue the role of a family caregiver’s well-being is at stake.
During this stage, the caregiver feels unappreciated, hopeless, helpless, and lonely. Informal caregivers also feel their efforts are not making a difference. This feeling of despair is a demoting and isolating experience.
Signs of caregiver burnout at work include a lack of concentration, regular absence, and being late for work. Some informal caregivers find they are drinking and smoking excessively, feel restless, lack energy, and withdraw from social activities with friends and acquaintances. In this stage, the caregiver’s focus is on reducing responsibilities associated with caring for an aging parent.
Compassion fatigue is a dangerous stage of the caregiver burnout cycle. It is an extreme state where a caregiver encounters secondary stress, which is a combination of caregiver burnout and caregiver fatigue.
During this stage, traumatic stress is usually detected by counselors, nursing staff, healthcare workers, and childcare workers, although the caregiver may not immediately recognize these symptoms are associated with caregiver stress.
The warning signs of compassion fatigue are isolation and withdrawal from social life, feeling hopeless and angry, lack of empathy for others, exhaustion, suicidal thinking, headaches, and stomach problems. However, there are several ways caregivers can cope with traumatic fatigue.
The solution is for caregivers to socialize and discuss their concerns with someone. A caregiver might reach out to a family member, a health practitioner, social worker, or counselor for support. Another option might be seeking out professional counseling or joining a local caregiver support group.
For caregivers experiencing any of the warning symptoms of compassion fatigue, it is important to talk to connect with the primary healthcare provider or have a heart-to-heart talk with your elder parent or loved one. Understand that self-love and self-care are the key to a happy and contented life and also crucial for providing caregiving.
Let’s review several ways caregivers can cope with caring for an elder parent or loved one to prevent burnout.
Caregivers must remember that no one should provide care alone. It is okay to ask family members and friends to help with some tasks. Caregivers can also find assistance with caring for a loved one by reaching out to the local Area Agency on Aging. When and if there is a situation requiring an immediate attention, it is important to call 911.
Find a caregiver support group or online community for caregivers. Connecting with others who are also caregiving has been found to help caregivers feel less overwhelmed and depressed.
Taking breaks helps caregivers restore their energy and relieve stress. It is important that caregivers take time to do things that help them relax and improve their mood. For example, caregivers might take 10 minutes to meditate, take a short walk, or sit in silence to recharge while caregiving.
Meeting with friends, enjoying hobbies, and engaging in enjoyable activities are essential to avoiding isolation. Having a weekly standing lunch, a going to see a funny movie with friends can help caregivers stay connected with friends while maintaining activities that do not involve caregiving.
Caregivers should also consider not talking about the stress of caregiving while engaging in social activities, as doing so can result in caregiver distress rather than an opportunity to de-stress.
Caregivers must not neglect attending regular health checkups, screenings, and vaccines. It is vital to see the doctor whenever necessary. Remember caregivers can only take care of others if they are healthy.
Family caregivers must take regular breaks to stay healthy. Utilizing, respite care so that you as the caregiver can get a break for eight hours, can be effective in decreasing caregiver stress.
Respite care can be provided by a home care provider or if a longer stay is needed caregivers can seek out care in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Caregivers might consider reaching out to the local Area Agency on Aging to obtain a list of reputable respite providers.
Caring for someone you love can be a rewarding experience. Yet, when a caregiver places his or her well-being on the backburner there is a great risk of experiencing burnout.
Maintaining a healthy body, mind, and spirit is crucial for the well-being of both the caregiver and the loved one. It is vital that caregivers take care of themselves and lean on their social networks regularly. Remember self-care is a key to living a joyful life.
A Registered Nurse and family caregiver expert. She holds a PhD in human services, with a specialization in health care administration. She has extensive experience focusing on caregivers' health and wellness, with an emphasis on caregiver stress, burnout, and related family conflicts. She has contributed to several publications and given presentations that focus on training, assessing, and supporting caregivers throughout their caregiving journeys. Green is also a published author and has written three books focusing on family caregiving: At the Heart of the Matter, Caregiving in the New Millennium, and Reflections from the Soul.
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