by Diane Graham
Southern Hills Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center

Caregiver BurnoutCaregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a  change in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.  Burnout can occur when caregiver’s don’t get the help hey need, or if they try to do more than they are able, either physically, emotionally, or financially.  Caregivers who are burned out may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.  Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.  If you’re burning out and the burnout expresses itself as irritability, you might find yourself snapping at people or making snide remarks about them.  If the burnout manifests as depression, you might want to sleep all the time or fell too tired to socialize.

What are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?

They symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression.  They include:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless, and helpless
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Getting sick more often
  • Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Irritability

What causes Caregiver Burnout?    Role Confusion- many people are confused when thrust into the role of caregiver.  It can be difficult for a person to separate her/his role as caregiver from her/his role as spouse, lover, child, friend, etc..

Unrealistic Expectations– Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient.  This may be unrealistic for patients suffering from progressive dieses, such as Parkinson’s or 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.

Unreasonable demands-Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, in part because they see providing care as their exclusive responsibility.

Other Factors-Many caregivers cannot recognize when they are suffering burnout, and eventually they get to the point where they cannot function effectively.  They many even become sick themselves.

How Can I Prevent Burnout? Here are some steps you can take to help prevent caregiver burnout.

Find someone you trust-such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor to talk to about your feelings and frustrations.

Set realistic goals, accept that you may need help with caregiving, and turn to others for help with some tasks.

Be realistic about your loved one’s disease, especially if it is a progressive disease such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.

Don’t forget about yourself because you’re too busy caring for someone else.  Set aside time for yourself, even if it’s just an hour or two.  Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury.  It is an absolute necessity for caregivers.

Talk to a professional.  Most therapist, social workers, and clergy members are trained to counsel individuals dealing with a wide range of physical and emotional issues.

Take advantage of respite care services.  Respite care provides a temporary break for caregivers.  This can range from a few hours of in-home care to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Know your limits and does a reality check of your personal situation.  Recognize and accept your potential for caregiver burnout.

Educate yourself.  The more you know about your loved one’s illness, the more effective you will be in caring for the person with the illness.

Develop new tools for coping.  Remember to lighten up and accentuate the positive.  Use humor to help deal with everyday stresses.

Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and sleep. 

Accept your feelings.  Having negative feelings such as frustration or anger about your responsibilities pr the person for whom you are caring is normal.  It does not mean you are a bad person or a bad caregiver.

Join a caregiver support group.  Sharing your feelings and experiences with others in the same situation can help you manage stress, locate helpful resources, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation.