Signs of Stress in a Caregiver and Tips to Avoid Burning Out
Being a Caregiver Can Negatively Impact Your Health
There are 65 million people (~29% of the US population) providing care for someone, usually a family member or close friend. The people needing care include the disabled, the senior who is unable to meet all their daily needs, and someone with dementia. Providing care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is more difficult.
Being a caregiver for a loved one is rewarding, but it often requires some sacrifice. Caretakers spend about 20 hours weekly providing care for a loved one. However, nearly 72% of caretakers state that they themselves do not go to a doctor, and 55% report cancelling appointments for themselves. They often report poor eating and exercise habits.
Sometimes, financial support is necessary for your loved one, which can be a difficult burden to manage. However, this is more uncommon than the parent just needing someone to help with errands, home repairs, and housework if they are residing in their own home.
Additionally, 23% of caregivers have provided care for five years or more. Over time, the stress of caring for people with dementia can weaken the immune system up to three years following the patient’s death, which can increase the chances of the caregivers developing a chronic illness themselves. Family caregivers who work under extreme stress can lose ten years of their life.
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.— Eleanor Roosevelt
My Caregiver Experience
I have been a caregiver for my 94-year-old, widowed mother for the past 14 years. Initially, after my father died, she was able to maintain her home fairly well. Then, she had surgery on her ankle by an orthopedic doctor that in my opinion was a quack. Due to the way he used an ACE wrap-type dressing around her ankle, two long incisions opened, and she got a MRSA infection in her bones.
In 2003, we spent a whole year trying to save her leg, but it had to be amputated. Being a caregiver when a loved one is in a rehab facility can still be a lot of work. Her house had to be maintained (my son kept her dog for much of that year). Clothes had to be washed and brought back to the facility. I also had to take her to doctors appointments. I was pretty much on my own since my brother has multiple medical problems, and my sister was usually too busy to help.
Sometimes, my mother was in my home with home health care visits. I still did dressing changes, and as an RN, I was comfortable with her care. She received a prosthesis after the amputation of her lower leg, and she eventually learned to walk again using a cane. She even drove her car and resumed playing bridge. Now, she is fairly isolated and on oxygen much of the time.
We built an extension to our home, so she has her own living room—a sunny room that has a computer and a place to sit and read. She sleeps in our third bedroom. When family come to visit, I have a sofa bed in the other bedroom, which has always been my computer room and a place where I work on stained glass projects. Some sacrifice is necessary.
I suppose I never thought she would live this long due to her heart problems, but we have gotten into a good routine. My daughter-in-law has been a Godsend. She helps out as needed. My husband has been a huge support, and he loves my mother.
I love talking to my mother, and we set aside some specific time each day. I have learned not to rely too much on any particular schedule as life can upset plans, and I try to avoid stress even when plans fall apart.
Caregiver Stress Signs
- Constant fatigue
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Getting too much or too little sleep
- Frequent headaches or other constant body aches
- A loss of interest in all the activities you once enjoyed
- Easily annoyed or angry
- Losing or gaining weight
- Abusing alcohol or prescription drugs
Due to the emotional demands of being a caregiver, you might want to see if there is a support group in your area. Family members are also great sources of support, so ask for help when you need it—they may assume you are managing well on your own.
Some time management can be helpful, like spacing out doctor appointments so you do not have too much scheduled in one day or week. The Alzheimer Foundation has an online calendar that maybe helpful.
Whether the person you are caring for lives with you or in their own home, determine what you can handle and be realistic. No one is perfect.
Caregiving Survival Tips
Helpful Tips to Avoid Caregiver Burnout
Do not get so focused on the health of your loved one that you ignore your own health. Burnouts can certainly happen, especially when your loved one is confused or uncooperative.
- Get help from family members when possible.
- Hire respite care if affordable.
- Enroll your parent in a senior daycare program, especially if you work.
- Check for resources in your community.
- Goals must be realistic and achievable.
- Organize activities, especially errands, as much as possible.
- If you handle several medications, get a couple of pill holders, and do 2 weeks at a time (that has worked well for me).
- Exercise, even if it is a short walk or bike ride.
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Get enough rest, even if it means a short power nap during the day.
- Do not become socially isolated—friends are important.
- Use meditation, visualization, prayer, or just listen to music.
- If you are feeling depressed, get some professional help as necessary.
An important part of caregiving is to provide emotional support, but you need support as well. Make sure any legal issues are handled, such as having a current will and an advanced directive.
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.— Mark Twain
5 Things To Avoid When Caring for Persons With Dementia
Life is tough sometimes. Placing a parent in a senior care facility can be expensive, especially if it is over a long period of time. We all have to make hard decisions. My husband and I want to take a short trip, but my little 100-pound mother is frail and needs someone with her. We are exploring our options. I wish the best for anyone facing difficulties with being caregiver.
Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only robs today of its joy.— Leo Buscaglia
Are you currently or will you have to provide care for a loved one?
10 symptoms of caregiver stress. Alzheimer's Association. Retrieved from: https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/caregiver-health/caregiver-stress?gclid=Cj0KCQjwgOzdBRDlARIsAJ6_HNmEV5Va6tKHT4q4ty4Hueh0fmOQ11u_xdBaIcEHNz9oK7MufwI0vt8aAiWqEALw_wcB
Caregiver Statistics. Caregiver Action Network. Retrieved from: http://caregiveraction.org/resources/caregiver-statistics
DailyCaring Editorial Team. (n.d.). 5 Top Caregiving Tips for Keeping Aging Parents at Home. DailyCaring. Retrieved from https://dailycaring.com/5-top-caregiving-tips-for-keeping-aging-parents-at-home/
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, January 19). Caregiver stress: Tips for taking care of yourself. MayoClinic. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784
Stepler, Renee. (2015 November 18). 5 facts about family caregivers. Pew Research Center: FactTank. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/18/5-facts-about-family-caregivers/
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2018 Pamela Oglesby