Caregivers assist a person in need with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, toileting, and recreation. In addition to that, they also prepare food for the care recipient and do their shopping for them. Here’s a point to note, the level of care a person needs increases with time. The caregiver contributes more of their time and energy with each passing day. There comes a point when they begin to sense fatigue, and feel emotionally numb.
What is caregiver burnout?
This feeling of perpetual tiredness and hopelessness is known as caregiver burnout. A caregiver can go from loving the person they care for to hating them in a matter of days. This is also the phase where a caregiver may act irrationally. Hence, a doctor’s intervention is crucial.
Such a situation often arises when a person is a caregiver for a family member with a neurodegenerative disorder such as Dementia. The care recipient continues to lose their memory and cognitive abilities, and the burden of care falls on their family member, who is acting as a caregiver.
Main causes of caregiver burnout
Newbie caregivers are often overly motivated to help their loved ones, and as a result, fail to take care of themselves in the process. If this sounds like you, take a deep breath, and pause to think about what you can do to make a positive change in your life.
Below, I share some factors that may cause burnout in caregivers:
1. Unrealistic expectations
Caregivers can have unrealistic expectations of themselves and the person they are caring for. For instance, they may decide to juggle between their day job and caregiving without taking into account the challenges involved in it.
Also, the person they are caring for may not get better with time. Caregivers often blame themselves when their loved one’s health continues to decline despite their efforts to nurse them back to health.
2. Financial burden
The economic impact of providing unpaid care to an older adult in the family can be immense. State health insurance assistance programs such as Medicare and Mediclaim can indeed lower the financial burden on caregivers, but they still have to endure out-of-pocket expenses. As a consequence, they often feel uneasy and unsettled.
3. Loneliness and isolation
Caregivers of chronically ill and physically isolated older adults are more likely to be at risk of social isolation, says a study by Weill Cornell Medicine. As the care recipient is homebound, their caregiver— who is busy taking care of them— also spends most of their time indoors.
4. Role confusion
Role confusion can occur when an adult child of an older person is offering them unpaid care. Earlier, the parent used to care for the child, now the same parent looks to the adult child to fulfill their emotional and physiological needs. This kind of role reversal can pose a significant challenge for the caregiver.
5. Spending no time alone
Spending all the time caring for a loved one can be satisfying in the short term, but its long-term effects can be damaging to a caregiver’s mental health. A caregiver needs to explore their interests while they offer unpaid care. Caregivers who spend all the time with the care recipient lack creativity and thoughtfulness.
Signs and symptoms
Caregiver burnout is a severe mental health illness and should not be taken lightly. Most caregivers are too busy taking care of their loved one, and as a result, do not catch the early signs of caregiver burnout. For a quick recovery, it is important to diagnose this condition early.
The following are signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout:
- Feeling tired all the time
- Lacking creativity
- Sudden weight loss or gain
- Change in sleep patterns
- Feeling uncertain about the future
- Getting sick frequently
- Avoiding social interactions with neighbors
- Getting irritated over small things
- Losing interest in everything
1. Join a support group in your area
Every caregiver support group has a leader whose responsibility is to initiate a conversation with new joiners. The leader makes you feel welcome right away. You just have to take a couple of hours a month from your busy schedule. A good support group has a relaxed and laid-back setting where members feel comfortable sharing what they feel.
2. Get some exercise
Regular exercise can boost the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins. You will begin to feel better about yourself. You can also consider exercising with the care recipient (with the doctor’s consent). Exercising will help you recover from caregiver burnout by decreasing your overall stress levels.
3. Practice Kirtan Kriya meditation
Practicing Kirtan Kriya, 12 minutes per day, can lower levels of depressive symptoms, says a study by UCLA geriatric psychiatrist Helen Lavretsky, Ph.D. Kirtan Kriya is a form of meditation involving singing sounds (such as Saa Taa Naa Maa) with finger movements called Mudras. This YouTube video explains it very well.
4. Start eating healthy
Busy caregivers need to eat on time and stay hydrated throughout the day. You can prepare your meals ahead of time if you are too tired to cook when you get back home from work.
The morning time can be hectic for caregivers. Care recipients rely on their caregivers for bathroom and toileting assistance in the morning. Due to time constraints, caregivers tend to skip breakfast, which should be a key part of their morning routine.
Have a healthy breakfast every day to stay energetic and focused throughout the day. Also, have healthy snacks available to you so you don’t go hungry in between meals.
5. Get restful sleep
A good night’s sleep keeps you rested, focused, and alert the next day. Create a good sleep environment in your room. Make the sleeping area as dark as possible. Also, keep the temperature cool— the ideal temperature for sleeping is between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit. If you tend to worry too much at night, set aside time in the evening to think.
Caring for a loved one is rewarding but a demanding role. Relentless caregiving can take a toll on your body and mind. It can leave you tired, frustrated, and full of guilt. Hence, you must give yourself a break every once in a while.
You can ask other families to fill in for you whenever you feel like taking a break. You can also delegate the caregiving duties to a professional caregiver.
Lastly, use the US government’s eldercare locator to find local support resources in your area. This is a free-of-cost service for family caregivers who need home-cooked meals, transportation services, training, and resources related to eldercare.
I am Ryan Wilson (He/Him/His), a family caregiver and the author of alzheimerslab.com. I can help you overcome the challenges involved in informal caregiving.