Taking care of the elderly can sometimes be demanding. It gets worse when a caregiver encounters situations that are beyond his/her capacity to handle. Not just that, sometimes the thought of having to compromise work and time to take care of elderly parents can be draining. According to caregiver burnout statistics, two-thirds of family caregivers have had to reduce their working hours or take unpaid leaves in order to take care of their elderly family members aged 65 years or more. On average, they spend 20 hours per week to do this which is almost half the 40 hours per week standard working time. This is not to mention elders in need of long-term care due to health, age-related or other needs.
As economics would have it, women family caregivers are the ones who bear the brunt since they are 2.5 times likely to end up poor and depend on Supplemental Security Income compared to others with access to full working hours. This alone can be stressful thanks to the fact that time and economic compromise is never a remedy for the financial burden that comes with taking care of the elderly. Secondly, daily care demands come with its own challenges which can get out of hand if taking care of frail seniors or those with chronic illnesses.
Often caregivers feel isolated since they lack the time to hang out or even interact with their mates normally as is required. All these along with other issues can cause a change of attitude towards taking care of the elderly loved ones and lead to burnout. In fact, the effect of isolation on caregivers health could be compared to the grave effect of smoking. No wonder one out of three caregiver stress levels rose to a point of depression at some point during their duty, according to MEDSURG Nursing research.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregivers are constantly faced with stress related to caregiving and ultimately become overwhelmed or face the feeling of not being able to meet their loved ones’ physical and financial requirements. When they cannot handle or resolve such stress, its effects pile up over time (months, years, or decades) leading first of all to a change in the manner they take care of their loved ones from overly loving and caring to resentment. This is bound to have an effect on them mentally, physically, and emotionally. If not resolved, such a situation can lead to anxiety and ultimately, depression.
Secondly, these people need to spend some time on themselves away from their duty. However, this is never the case for most of them as they somehow always end up feeling guilty when spending time on themselves rather than on their elderly or ill loved ones. They, therefore, need a support system because managing stress is as important as taking good care of their loved ones.
What causes caregiver burnout?
Quite surprisingly, caregiver burnouts causes resemble those of stress, anxiety, and depression although it has not been concluded to be another form of depression. More often than not, burnouts start with a compassion fatigue that stays unaddressed over a period of time. Here are 7 major causes of caregivers burnout.
Lack of time off
It takes a scheduled break for anyone to be productive. Failing to take some time off to handle other things including resting is the number one cause of burnouts among caregivers. This may not be easy especially when one feels that stepping away for a moment will compromise the care they give to their loved ones. However, taking some time to rest or to be with other family members can be the refresher that a caregiver needs to avoid burnout.
Compassion fatigue is the feeling a caregiver develops so that she cannot step away from taking care of her loved one for any reason. This often results in fatigue and extreme loneliness and sometimes a total lack of a support system. Eventually, they start resenting the care mentally without even knowing it.
While emotional fatigue may be more or less like compassion fatigue, emotional fatigue often results from the helpless feeling that one gets when taking care of a loved one with chronic illness yet they cannot be of much help. It’s emotionally draining to watch a loved one decline as a result of pain and suffering and not be able to help. Conditions like dementia,
Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation can cause anyone stress, irritability and ultimately depression. Worse is that it also affects your relationships. Sleep deprivation among caregivers can be as a result of caregiving demands associated especially with frail seniors or those suffering from chronic conditions.
Lack of a support system
It helps to discuss the issues you are facing to someone trustworthy without regretting. Secondly, this person needs to be in a position to offer sound advice for caregivers when you need it. Joining a network of caregivers may be a good option too.
Warning signs of burnout
Not knowing the symptoms of burnout can cause one to have unrelieved stress for so long they may develop several other ailments in the process. The effect, an inability to care for your loved one as well as one would have loved to which leads to even more frustration and a cycle of never-ending health issues.
If you notice that you have the following caregiver depression symptoms, know that you are on your way to a burnout and the earlier you address them the better for both you and the one you are caring for.
- Little or too much sleep
- Constant emotional, physical, and mental fatigue
- Neglecting your own needs and feeling that they are less important
- Irritability and anxiety
- Feeling hopeless and helpless
- Overlooking other responsibilities and relationships
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Loss of interest in your favorite activities including caring for your loved one
- Withdrawal from social circles
This caregiver stress test below will help you analyze your level of stress so that you don’t get to the burnout point.
A caregiver burnout scale past the 60% mark means that one needs to seek help before things get out of hand. Taking the caregiver burnout quiz is not all. some self-stress management tips will help keep you in good shape and prevent burnouts.
Caregiver fatigue timeline
The caregiver fatigue timeline indicates the decline process that a caregiver goes through in a cycle of 50 months is stress and burnout warning signs are not addressed.
This is the time when a caregiver is at her best, providing her level best care lovingly to her loved one. She has all the energy to keep a kempt lawn, neat and tidy house, and still manages to be in touch with her work, other family members and herself.
The reality of caregiving pressure and stress sets in albeit gradually. She may not manage everything as before but is still optimistic that a quick remedy like sleep, headache, and migraine medication will sort her situation.
The emotional rollercoaster begins. Her productivity is reduced by the fact that there may be no more extra help from family members just when her strength and optimism is sapping. She may start feeling helpless and find that caregiving is consuming most if not all of her time.
A caregiver’s depression is real and evident. Muscle pain, sleep deprivation, anxiety, and isolation are having serious effects on her she might begin taking antidepressants or tranquilizers to manage the situation.
Health is fast declining. Signs of restlessness and chronic exhaustion affect her ability to take care of herself, her loved one, and handle other responsibilities. At this point, she may develop hypertension and insomnia. Optimism is completely gone and she now feels like a failure.
She is in a state of total helplessness, isolation, and poor health. She is beyond asking for help, getting useful resources, and interacting with others.
Self-care tips for caregivers
Some simple steps that caregivers can take towards caring for themselves can make a whole difference in their work, especially during stressful moments. These vary from one caregiver to another. One should come up with a caregiver self-care checklist that applies to them personally. This will help them be in a good state mentally and physically while working. Some items in the checklist include but are not limited to:
- Working out regularly helps keep the body balance in check. Exercises like tai-chi and meditation are excellent relaxation activities. In addition, engaging in physical activities like swimming, cycling, and walking which one enjoys is a good way to keep the body fit and active in order to manage the physical demands of caring for an elderly loved.
- Spoil yourself to some indulgence. Go to the spa, out partying with friends, or attend a concert to get your mind off work. Such a treat is a welcome reward for a job well done and a motivator to keep working at it.
- Social and mentor support. A social support is a network of other caregivers, family members, or friends who you can talk to. At times it takes some venting out to ease your stress. Other times you need people who can stand in for you while you take a break to refresh. On the other hand, mentor support will come in handy whenever you need sound and professional advice.
- Never fear to ask for help when you need it. This could save you and your loved one a great deal of stress-related effects. If you don’t manage to enlist the help of a family member or a close friend, consider getting professional help from a caregiver.
- Stick to a regular rest schedule. Routine rest will not only rejuvenate your entire body system, it will eliminate the guilt trips that caregivers tend to take when they are not the ones caring for their loved ones.
Caregiver burnout prevention
While managing stress helps prevent burnouts, it is only a step towards this. Other important things like a caregiver’s health, wellness, and empowerment will go a long way to prevent burnouts. Prevention is not a one-time affair. It is consistently making effort to get into habits that will help you remain sober and not lose touch of the world around you apart for that of the person you are taking care of.
Here are the steps that one can take towards empowering themselves as a caregiver.
- It starts with the mind. The first stress response is registered in the mind whether one is going through real stress or facing threat from imagined risk factors. It helps to learn how to deal with a trigger immediately it is registered in the mind. This is done by training the mind to think positively and suppress any cognitive distortions. Ultimately, the mind registers stressors as challenges to be surmounted rather than a crippling factor and this influences one’s attitude positively. Armed with a positive attitude, one will stop feeling inadequate or guilty about getting support.
- Identify pressure signs and know what to do when they set in. Signs of pressure could be feelings of sadness, isolation, rejection, resentment, or irritability. For others, it could be under or overeating, anxiety, or constant fatigue. Knowing how to deal with these warning signs will help stop them from interfering with your productivity. This could mean seeking professional help, taking a break, talking to a friend or mentor, or getting a life coach specifically one who deals with stress and burnout management.
- Caregiver’s health check. The caregiver’s health is critically important yet many times it is neglected. Your body, like a vehicle, needs maintenance to operate well. Keep your doctor’s appointments and maintain regular medical screenings and checkups. Good health and a fit body will help you go through your daily routine with the much-needed energy and a positive mood. Don’t forget regular exercise.
- Alone time. Taking moments to be alone and unwind can be relaxing. However, when you are stressed and need someone to talk to, try not being alone as this will worsen the situation. Alone times are purely for taking a rest and giving your mind some peace.
- Organize. Simple organizers like a calendar, a diary, or a to-do-list are excellent tools for getting your short and long-term priorities right. Whenever you have an overload and stress is imminent, it will be easier for you to enlist help from others. Tasks like meal preparation, housekeeping, and errands are easy to delegate and will relieve you a great deal of pressure. In addition, organizing their documents and important items (as will be discussed later) will make it easy to handover when you have to be the one stepping out for a while.
- Socialize and be happy. Relationships and positive ones at that are part of human well being. Talking, interacting, and having fun with friends and other family members is therapeutical. Sometimes all you need is a listening ear or a break from routine. However, take care that you are not around negative people. The last thing you need during this critical moment is a dampened spirit.
- Food for the body. Eating well is part of keeping your energy and health in check. Eating well is not just about having a balanced diet which includes lean protein, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. You also need ample time to have your meals without a rush. Snacking on the go is not a bad idea but if it keeps you from settling down to a proper meal, avoid it at all cost.
- Keep learning. Learning never ends. The more you feed yourself with relevant caregiving information, the more empowered you will be in taking care of your loved one. There is a wealth of information online from sites like HealthinAging.org and American Geriatrics Society. Still, you can contact organizations like The Red Cross, Alzheimer’s Association and others around you and schedule some classes to attend. This is important especially if your loved one is suffering from a medical condition like Alzheimer or Dementia that is bound to complicate the care.
The inventory every caregiver should keep
One overlooked cause of stress for caregivers is having disorganized or unrecorded details about your senior. This brings about the difficulty to enlist the help of others in order to take a break. A checklist file will help organize your daily schedule and give you some peace handing over care duties to others when you need to be away. Here is what it should contain.
- A list of important contacts
- Brief life-history write-up
- Medical records with a doctor’s appointment calendar
- Medication schedule for those taking medical drugs
- Insurance policy details
- Copy of social security cards
- Copy of their medical insurance (MEDICARE and MEDICAID) card
- Allergy or dementia behavior if any
- Copy of anatomical gift instructions
- Copy of title deed
- Bank account records
- Marriage and birth certificate as well as the death certificate of their deceased spouse
- Copy of will or trust
Resources caregivers can take advantage of to prevent or deal with burnout
We recommend that you take advantage of the resources listed below. This will be a big step to recovering from caregiver burnout.
- Family and friends for all round help and support
- Respite care for help with taking care of the loved one
- Mentor for advice about caring for a loved one and stress relief
- Hospital social worker for advice and information on caregiving and burnout prevention
- Housekeeper for help with keeping the house clean and organized
- Caregivers cooperative society for savings and caregiving financial assistance
- Caregivers hotline for emergency situations
- Financial support
- Food service to deliver meals for the loved one being cared for
- Online support network for online help and sharing caregiving issues
- Local support group for help and support with caregiving
Without support and the necessary resources, caregiving can be a real struggle. In fact, as someone rightly put it, “burnout is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign that you have been strong for too long.” Being strong ultimately leads to helplessness. It is high time caregivers accepted that they cannot do it alone and be open to all the assistance they may need to take care of their loved ones. In some cases, respite is neither a luxury nor an optional solution. It is as critical as taking care of oneself. It is important to note that one can never be perfect. However, the road to taking care of a loved one well enough is that of constantly trying to do your best, which involves the quality care of the caregiver and in effect quality care for the elderly.
If you are just preparing yourself to become a caregiver, here is our article on Home Care for the Elderly in their Own Homes. It will let you understand the bacisc of this not easy mission and let you know what to expect of it.