Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion which can occur when providing care to someone who needs ongoing, extensive care and support. Typically this is a family caregiver who is charged with caring for an aging parent or spouse.

Caregiver burnout occurs when the person responsible for providing care does not get the help and support they need. Income may also contribute to burnout because on top of worrying about how much care your loved one may need, there may be a question of how you can afford to pay for additional care.

This can be seen in family members who either pay for adult day care services or who pay for the many respite services that are available to caregivers. Family disputes may occur as well. Husbands, wives, or children may feel neglected at times. Therefore, the caregiver may feel trapped. They don’t want to lose their family, but at the same time, they can’t turn their backs on a parent.

The biggest issue is that caregiver burnout happens gradually. It does not roll over the caregiver like the flu, but happens more like a slow leak and suddenly the dam breaks and there is a disaster. If caregiver stress is left untreated for too long, the caregiver will experience burnout and will stop caring and will no longer be able to provide care and support to the one in need.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers who suffer caregiver burnout will be experiencing high levels of stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, financial pressures and interruptions in employment. Some signs and symptoms include:

  • Irritability and short temper
  • Anxiety
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Withdrawal
  • Lack of interest
  • Lacks energy
  • Gets sick frequently
  • Constantly exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
  • Neglects own needs, through busyness or lack of interest
  • Life feels dominated by the responsibility of caregiving
  • Difficulty relaxing, even when help is available
  • He or she acts impatient and irritable with the person being cared for
  • Feels overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless
  • Harmful behavior toward the care recipient.
  • Unrelenting feelings of sadness or doom.
  • Feeling like your life is being stolen from you.
  • Crying frequently.
  • Being easily angered by, and constantly annoyed at the care recipient.
  • Sudden change in eating habits resulting in unwanted weight gain or loss.
  • Change in sleeping: inability to fall or stay asleep, or, wanting to stay in bed and sleeping too much.
  • Lack of desire to do anything.
  • Loss of interest in people and pleasurable activities.
  • Feeling worthless and guilty.
  • Feeling like nothing you do is good enough.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Chronic physical symptoms: headaches, back pain, etc.
  • Feeling completely overwhelmed with worry about how you will manage.

General Tips and Methods for Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

The key to avoiding caregiver burnout is to manage caregiver stress and get help and support before it is too late. There are a number caregiver programs that can help with caregiver stress:

  • Seek Support from Friends or Neighbors – Ask others to stop by and provide some respite for a few hours. Most people are willing to help, they just need to be asked. Be specific in your request.
  • Leverage other Family Members – Call siblings, grandkids or adult children to step in and help out. While the family caregiver is typically fully responsible, this responsibility should be shared among other family members.
  • Seek Help from the Church, Senior Center, or Professional Provider– Many churches or senior centers offer companion care free of charge. These are typically younger seniors who stop by and visit with aging seniors who need support. You can also pay for professional companion service via some home health agencies.
  • Set Realistic Expectations – Given the situation, the family caregiver cannot be expected to do it all. Understand personal limitations and be forgiving to yourself. If all the laundry does not get done, so be it.
  • Try Adult Day Care – Adult day care is a service that provides care to an aging loved one during the day at an affordable rate. Having your loved one leave the house provides them the opportunity to socialize and feel engaged, but also gives the family caregiver time to manage things around the home.
  • Find a counselor or therapist. Therapy isn’t for everyone but can be very useful when coping with the emotional stress of caring for a loved one. There are counselors or therapists who specialize in working with chronic illnesses.
  • Schedule a fun activity for a few hours. Take a walk, go to a movie, get a massage. Plan something outside of the normal routine. It need not be expensive or complicated. The goal is a change of scenery and an opportunity for relaxation.

General Tips and Methods for Women to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

  • At night when your loved one is asleep, take a nice long bubble bath. Fill that tub with warm water and lay back and relax. Light some candles, lie back, close your eyes, and wipe from your mind all the days doings. This may also be a great time to try aromatherapy, but be sure to get the right scent for your mood.
  • Give yourself a manicure and/or pedicure. Soak your feet in a foot bath massager for 30 minutes. Paint your nails with a bright, happy color and use a quick dry top coat, so you won’t have to wait 5 hours to go to bed! Or, you can get one or both done in a salon.
  • Read your favorite novel or magazine. Read what interests you, as we are all of the different religions and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Rent your favorite movie. Comedies are great because laughing is great for the soul.
  • Pet therapy, curl up with your furry friend and talk, talk, talk. Animals are extremely comforting and they have a knack for listening.
  • If you have 45 minutes to an hour and a half, think about getting a facial or a back massage at a salon. Most salons will have choices for you so you can tell them that you are feeling a little stressed. Many places also use aromatherapy.
  • Go shopping and get yourself that outfit you have been wanting. If you don’t want anything in particular, browse around and see if something catches your eye. A new purse? A new hat? Perfume? Anything that you fancy. I love to buy different kinds of socks with decorations on them like flowers, butterflies, and stripes.
  • Bake something sweet. Don’t have enough time with baking something 100% homemade? Not a problem. Most mixes in the stores take 15-20 minutes. Try brownies.
  • Make yourself dinner, or order out. Put on the television to a good show, sit on the couch and eat your dinner with a nice drink.
  • If you have a lunch break, invite a friend or your significant other to join you.
  • Relax your eyes by putting an eye gel under your eyes, then close your eyes, lay back and relax for 20 minutes. If your eyes are very tired or puffy, try using an eye mask. I have the one where you keep it in the fridge. Very calming.
  • Exercise- go for a walk around the beach or do 20 minutes of another aerobic exercise. If you have any type of health condition and unsure if you can do certain activities, please consult with your physician first.

General Tips and Methods for Men to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Men can do the same activities as the women, except maybe painting nails. These activities take less than an hour.

  • Take a nice long hot shower or bath. If you don’t like bubbles, try aromatherapy salts and oils. They work just as well. Turn off the lights, rest your head on a bath pillow, and let the day happenings drift away.
  • Rent your favorite movie. Comedies are great because laughing is great for the soul.
  • Pet therapy, curl up with your furry friend and talk, talk, talk. Animals are extremely comforting.
  • Don’t laugh, but there are special facials for men! So if you are curious about it, call salons to see what they offer.
  • Go shopping for something that you have been wanting to get. A game for your computer, a book about fishing, or anything else that interests you.
  • Make yourself dinner, or order out. Put on the television to a good show, sit on the couch and eat your dinner with a nice drink.
  • If you have a lunch break, invite a friend or your significant other to join you.
  • Exercise- Walking and jogging may help to relieve some of that built up stress, even if you only go for a 20-minute walk. If this is new to you, you may want to speak with your physician.
  • If you have an all-time favorite car type, find a car model and put it together.

How Mindset Can Cause Caregiver Burnout

Those giving care to an ill family member will reason that the sick person is worse off than they are, and so they become focused only on the patient’s needs and not their own. This can result in caregivers neglecting their own needs almost entirely. This can only go on for so long before it leads to caregiver burnout, strain, and illness. Finding a balance is challenging but it can be done and will result in a better quality of life for both care recipient and care provider. Those giving care need to first understand that taking care is equally important.

Changing One’s Mindset Can Prevent Burnout

Flight attendants tell mothers of small children on an airplane: if it becomes necessary to use the oxygen mask, mothers, put your mask on yourself first, then place the children’s masks on them. The mother will be of no use to the children if she passes out; indeed, the children can die as a result of her natural instinct to take care of them before herself. Yet, the best way for her to protect her children is to make sure that she is ok first. It can be difficult to go against the natural instinct to protect the children first, but it makes complete sense to do so.

It is difficult to compare spouses or elderly parents to children; to see them lose their independence. But when illness strikes, loved ones do become more dependent and it pays to be realistic about this fact. Just like in pregnancy and motherhood, it is helpful if the caregiver sees his or her role as caring for two now: self and patient. Being alert to the signs of caregiver burnout is an essential part of this.

How Circumstances Can Cause Caregiver Burnout.

Multiple strains imposed by caregiving increase stress levels, which make people more vulnerable to disease. Burnout can easily result. Some of the strains include:

  • worry about the loved one;
  • having to make decisions about the patient’s medical issues and respond to crises and medical needs with no prior training;
  • change in the relationship between caregiver and care recipient;
  • too many demands;
  • loss of financial freedom, privacy, personal freedom, free time;
  • sleep deprivation;
  • guilt over being healthy, having negative feelings toward care recipient, not having enough patience, or utilizing nursing home care.

Changing One’s Circumstances Can Prevent Burnout

Though some of the problems of lack of time, money and help may seem impossible to solve, there is always some progress that can be made, no matter how small. In a crisis, even a small change can make a big difference. Sometimes the best way to make a change is to find a caregiver support group and discuss the situation with people who completely understand because they have been there. They can direct others to resources which can be of great help.

When dealing with illness, life is replete with circumstances not under the person’s control. However, those giving care to others can control their mindset and some of their circumstances. Taking these actions can prevent caregivers from becoming patients themselves.

Avoiding Burnout Through Other Care Options

Being a family caregiver is a stressful and often thankless job; however millions of people do the job simply because they must. To be an effective caregiver for your loved one, it is critical to seek support early on in the caregiving process. There are several options to consider depending on the nature and level of care that is needed. They can also be expensive, so be prepared. Here are some options to consider, along with a general evaluation of their costs:

  • Nursing home and home health care – costs vary but typically very expensive, up to $5,000 a month
  • Medicare – limited coverage for home and nursing home care; strict eligibility requirements
  • Medicaid – chronic conditions covered for low-income individuals only
  • Home delivered meals – low-cost or sometimes free
  • Volunteer services – usually free
  • Senior housing – not covered by insurances; usually low-cost but high demand and long waiting lists
  • Hospice – fully covered by Medicare when provided by a Medicare-certified program
  • Adult day care – averages about $30 a day; sometimes covered by Medicaid

There is no magic cure for the pains of caring for a sick loved one. Chronic illness is indeed sad for the patient and the family members, there is no way to avoid this. Caregiving is extremely challenging and there is no way to deny that. Managing the situation in the healthiest way possible is all that a person can aim for. This includes being alert to the signs of caregiver burnout and seeking out support groups, mental health, or medical care as necessary.