Acting as a caregiver to an elderly loved one is both one of the most rewarding and one of the most demanding jobs that most people will ever do. On the one hand, being able to provide care for a loved one provides many caregivers with a deep sense of satisfaction and joy; on the other, the demands of being a primary caregiver for an elderly loved one can be very stringent and can lead to caregiver burnout. Burnout can cause the caregiver to suffer emotional, physical, and psychological consequences, and can harm the elderly loved one by reducing the quality of care that he or she is receiving from the caregiver.
Here are some things to consider when fighting caregiver burnout.
Be alert for signs of burnout
The biggest issue with burnout is that once you are suffering from it, it is no longer possible for you to provide good care for your elderly loved one. For this reason, you need to be very alert to your condition and proactively take steps to ensure that you are not burning out. If you do notice some of the signs of burnout, you must take corrective steps immediately in order to preserve your ability to provide care to your loved one.
Common signs and symptoms
Although a complete discussion of all the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout would be far beyond the scope of this article, in brief you need to look out for signs of mental, physical, or emotional exhaustion. Many of the signs and symptoms of burnout are very similar to those of depression: anxiety, a feeling of exhaustion, problems sleeping properly, eating and/or drinking problems, health problems that are new or suddenly worsen, a feeling of helplessness, and so on.
You cannot expect your support network of friends and family to automatically…
If you notice any of these symptoms you should immediately get some help, both for your own benefit as well as the benefit of your loved one. You cannot expect your support network of friends and family to automatically know what you’re dealing with; rather, you need to speak up and let them know that you are starting to suffer from burnout.
Proactive steps to fight burnout
You should take steps to provide some relief for yourself before you actually get to the point of being burned out. One thing you may want to consider is asking someone to check in on you on a regular basis. You can make arrangements with a friend or family member to call you on a weekly (or even a daily) basis to see how you’re doing. This practice will help get another set of eyes on your situation and it’s possible that the person checking on you will notice that you are starting to experience burnout long before you would notice it yourself.
Don’t be too proud to accept help. Many caregivers seem to feel that it’s a badge of honor to tough it out and do everything on their own. In truth, this approach will only accelerate the onset of burnout and will harm you and your loved one. If someone offers some help, take it!
Make some time for yourself, and do it on a regular basis. Perhaps you could arrange for someone to watch your loved one a few times a week while you go take some valuable alone time. Take some time, go to a quiet setting, and just de-stress. You will be a better caregiver for having done so.
Caregiver burnout is a very real problem with very real consequences. If you burn out, you will be unable to provide the care your loved one needs. To this end, you should be watchful for signs of burnout and take steps to prevent it from happening. If you actively work to manage your stress, you will find yourself more prepared to provide the care you want to provide for your loved one.
Maslach, Christina. Burnout: The Cost of Caring (2003). Cambridge, MA: Maler Books. Available at https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Pigg1p-hJhgC&oi=fnd&pg=PP2&dq=Fighting+caregiver+burnout&ots=DBt-9iZ1vG&sig=-RPWz3H_H9vTuSVZ8rf_ebdBQYA#v=onepage&q&f=false. Last visited January 7, 2016.
Smith, M., Kemp, G. Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Recharging and Finding Balance. HelpGuide.Org. Available at http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiving-stress-and-burnout.htm. Last visited January 7, 2016.