Even if you are not currently handling caregiver responsibilities for your aging loved one, the chances are high that you know someone who is for one of theirs. Caregiving is different for everyone, but whether you’re providing daily assistance with household tasks or coordinating care virtually from afar, you are considered a caregiver and you are not alone.
The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 44 million Americans currently provide some kind of unpaid caregiving to a loved one. Perhaps more startling is the fact that the majority of these caregivers are ill-equipped and underprepared for taking on the responsibility, which quickly leads to caregiver burnout.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiving takes an emotional and physical toll on the caregiver, no matter how long they have been in the caregiving role. Due to the emotional and physical stress, caregivers can often find themselves living with caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout, sometimes referred to as caregiver fatigue, is a real phenomenon that is used to explain the physical, emotional, and mental health complications that occur to someone who is caregiving for another.
Caregiver burnout can lead to serious health problems, including depression and anxiety, sleep disruptions, and an increased likelihood of using unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or drugs. In addition, caregiver burnout can lead to overall worse physical health, an increased risk of heart disease, and even premature death.
Preventing Caregiver Burnout
If you are in a caregiving role of any kind with your aging loved one, you can reduce your chances of experiencing negative health outcomes by following a few of these tips.
Ask for Help
Perhaps the most difficult skill to learn in caregiving is to ask for help from other family members, neighbors, and senior service agencies. However, you simply cannot do it all on your own and remain healthy or effective. Before you ask for help, write a list of specific tasks that you perform on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Then, you can ask others to help you with those tasks. Simply saying, “I need help” is not as effective as saying, “I need help preparing mom’s pillbox every Sunday afternoon.”
You cannot care for your loved one while still balancing your personal and professional obligations when you are exhausted. Instead, you must make rest a part of your daily and weekly routine. Use a pen and mark it in your schedule to ensure you take the time you need when no one needs you. Use the time to take a nap, get a massage, or just go for a walk.
Keep Up with Your Medical Appointments
Caregivers are far less likely to keep up with annual physician checkups or procedures, including diagnostic tools such as mammograms. Continue to make your personal health a priority by scheduling your annual medical and dental appointments and making sure you go to them. Don’t forget to mention your caregiving role to your medical team so they know the additional stress you’re experiencing.
Talk with Your Employer
If caregiving stress is taking away from your professional life, have a candid conversation with your employer. You might be able to take some time off through the Family Medical Leave Act, or your employer might be able to refer you to resources available through your Employee Assistance Program.
Know About Local Resources
Caregivers experiencing burnout are more likely to become frustrated with their aging loved one. Make sure you are staying mentally healthy by utilizing local resources. Find a caregiver support group, see a therapist who has experience supporting caregivers, or schedule respite care services on your calendar monthly. Not sure what resources are near you? Start by calling your township’s senior services department.
Benefits of Living Without Burnout
It is possible to be in a caregiving role without sacrificing your own health. You just need the help, support, and resources to make it more realistic for your schedule. However, utilizing the help and network around you can lead to benefits such as:
- A better relationship with your aging loved one
- Decreased risk of depression and anxiety
- Decreased risk of substance abuse
Assess your own risk of caregiver burnout by taking our quiz. It will measure your level of risk as well as provide information as to how you can find the help you need to stay healthy.