Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to Recognize & Prevent Caregiver Burnout

by Kristen West

How are you doing today? Do people ask you how you are holding on as you care for a loved one, do you hide your stress and respond with a standard, pleasant reply?

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion often accompanied by a change in attitude. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or when they try to do more than they are able. Caregivers who are "burned out" may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Look out for signs like increasing irritation, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, and frequent sickness as well. These may be signals from your body that you are getting worn down.

What Causes Caregiver Burnout? 

Knowing why you are experiencing the emotions you feel is one of the first steps in help alleviate caregiver burnout. These are the most common challenges that you may be experiencing:
  • Role Confusion: When are you a caregiver and when are you a spouse, a child, or just a friend? The change in your role with your loved one can feel confusing or spark feelings of grief.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: Often caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient. However, improvements may be hard to see with progressive diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. 
  • Lack of Control: Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources, and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organize their loved one's care. 
  • (Too) Great Expectations: Some caregivers expect superhuman feats and angelic patience of themselves, while others believe providing care is their exclusive responsibility and refuse to ask for help. 

How Can You Prevent Burnout?

Burnout is both preventable and fixable. Try some of these steps if you think you are noticing signs of burnout in yourself.
  • Talk to someone your trust about your feelings and frustrations. If you don't feel comfortable sharing with the people in your life, consider attending a support group for caregivers
  • Set realistic standards for your loved one's abilities, know your limits, and turn to others for help. 
  • Don't forget to take care of yourself too! Self-care is not a luxury but a necessity when you are trying to be an effective caregiver for someone else. 
  • Take advantage of respite care services and senior centers. Time apart can you give you both a break while providing you the opportunity to focus on daily household tasks or much needed self-care. 
  • Educate yourself about your loved one's illness so you can provide the most effective care.
  • Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and rest. 
  • Accept your feelings - having negative feelings, such as frustration or anger, is natural and it don't mean you are a bad person or bad caregiver. 

The most important thing to remember in recognizing and preventing caregiver burnout, is accepting inevitable frustrations and being honest about those frustrations. For further reading on caregiver burnout, consider reading these articles from the AARP or Aging Care.