Caregiver Burnout – A Real Health Threat

Caregiver BurnoutCaregiver Burnout is the term for when a caregiver (usually the spouse or other family member) is tooexhausted and unwell to maintain an acceptable level of caregiving. When meeting in Caregiver Support Groups, it is asked “when will you know that you are burnt out?” The answer is usually, “When I collapse.” What a shame, because help is available which can help prevent anyone collapsing. Research shows that for caregivers over the age of seventy, 70% of them will die before the person for whom they are caring for. That should make every spousal caregiver, and their adult children rethink the plan of letting mom or dad take care of everything themselves – it is UNSUSTAINABLE! Fortunately, planning can help a lot to support the family caregiver and provide the care needed without Caregiver Burnout taking over.

We all have Limits

Caregiver burnout is not a sign of weakness, either physical or of character. It is a sign of being human. Imagine being in your 70s, 80s or older, with some medical conditions, day to day stressors AND having a 24/7/365 responsibility of taking care of another adult who has medical needs, movement limitations (persoanl care) or dementia, let alone how well they are emotionally coping with their own situation. Not everyone is easy to care for. Add in demanding, impatient, depressed, ungrateful, narcissistic, and belittling and you can see what a huge responsibility it is… at any age. Some symptoms of Caregiver Burnout include: stress, difficulty sleeping, depression, increased use of alcohol and medications prescribed or otherwise, feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, impatient, guilty, agitated, resentful or angry. All this and neglecting your own needs, social support and medical attention. For grown children of the “Sandwich Generation” who have other family responsibilities in addition to care for aging parents, you need help also to make everything run.

Ways to Counteract Caregiver Burnout

*Recognize your situation as a caregiver as ripe for burnout – it is expected and to be avoided.

*Accept your feelings as legitimate and not an indictment about you.

*Seek Counseling help either individual, marital or in a Support Group. Medicare covers counseling for Stress, Depression and Anxiety with a doctor’s order. Support is essential.

*Speak to all family members to find out who can visit and help, check with community organizations and religious institutions who may offer volunteer help or on a sliding scale.

*If your loved one has a Long Term Care policy – start using it. Explore Veteran’s Benefits and Medicaid which may be able to provide some help or funds for help if you meet the requirements.

*Learn more about the condition and overall education. Join the National Organization for your loved one’s condition and connect with their support network.

*Get Respite Care for yourself and your loved one. Having another set of hands and a driver can make a huge difference for both of you. Break the dynamic of spousal caregiving being the only source of help. Hiring a trained aide or caregiver even a few hours a week provides a few hours (or more) of time for yourself without worrying about your family member’s safety and well-being.

*Continue taking care of yourself – eat healthier, get out and move and socialize as well as keeping your own doctor appointments.

When the goal is to be the best caregiver you can be to a spouse, partner, sibling or adult child, keeping yourself in the best shape and frame of mind possible is a means to that goal!