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Signs of Stress in a Caregiver and Tips to Avoid Burning Out

I spent 22 years in the nursing profession, and I enjoy writing about medical issues. I'm also interested in history, genealogy, and travel.

A growing number of people are caring for older adults.

A growing number of people are caring for older adults.

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.

The elderly often need assistance—from caregivers or devices like walkers—to perform daily functions.

The elderly often need assistance—from caregivers or devices like walkers—to perform daily functions.

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
  • Sadness
  • 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.

Caring for the Caregivers - Francis Lewis

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

Caregiver Training: Agitation and Anxiety

In Summary

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

References

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.

© 2018 Pamela Oglesby

Comments

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 22, 2019:

Rinita, I think families often have some bickering when it comes to caring for a elderly or terminally ill parent. Or, In my case nobody helps but my husband.

I agree with your suggestions and I appreciate your comments.

Rinita Sen on January 22, 2019:

When my family had to provide care for my late father during his terminal illness, we realized how important it was to work together. It didn't work perfectly because we all had different opinions about best approaches, and would often bicker and fall apart. I think talking to an outsider to the family but close to the family is helpful in such matters, although such people are hard to find. Support groups are a good idea to avoid burnouts. Useful article.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 18, 2018:

Natalie, I think you are right about the future of being a caregiver. Good nursing homes are very expensive, and that is out of the pocket cost that is not doable for many. Family will step in as needed in most cases I think.I appreciate your comments.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on November 17, 2018:

You do a good job of underscoring the need for more attention being paid to the specific needs of caregivers. There are likely only going to be more in the future with rates perhaps increasing astronomically depending on what happens with healthcare and medicare. Thanks for writing on such an important topic.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 17, 2018:

Dorothy, Thanks your so much for your comments, and I am glad you liked the advice for caregivers.

Dianna Mendez on October 17, 2018:

So sorry to hear of your dear mother's passing as you wrote. I believe your care was so treasured by her. Great advice for caregivers.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 11, 2018:

Linda, I sure hope this article will help people that are in that roll as it is tough, although usually done out of love. That doesn't necessarily simplify the duties. Thank you so much for your comments.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 10, 2018:

Thank you for sharing all the helpful advice, Pamela. I'm sure it will be useful for many people. Caring for a loved one is important, but in some cases it can be very difficult. Best wishes to you and your mother.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 10, 2018:

Peggy, My mother is my best friend too. I will miss her terribly when she is gone. She has been so strong with what she has been through.

I hope this article helps your cousin. Thanks so much for your kind words.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 10, 2018:

My mother lived with us for the last 3 years of her life when she needed some extra care and I will always cherish that extra time we got to spend together. I still miss her to this day. We were best friends as well as mother and daughter.

Her sister is still alive in a nursing home and does not even recognize her own children. Will send this to my cousin who spends time with her daily. That video on Alzheimers has some good tips that he might enjoy.

Your mother seems to be in very good hands with your loving care. I do hope you get to enjoy that trip.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2018:

Peg, Your mother and her sister must have been great for each other. The caregiver does work in a lot of ways that may not be recognized by anyone. There is always something to do or an errand.

I am sorry you miss your mother, and I would miss mine also, as we are close and can talk about most anything. I hate for her to go into a nursing home, but if her health fails more that may come to pass.

Thanks so much for your comments and sharing your expwerience.

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on October 09, 2018:

Pamela, I admire your courage and tenacity in caring for your mother at 94. I can understand and relate to many of the symptoms of stress. As you may know, my mother passed away last year at 92. Her 97 year-old sister who shared her home passed the following month. They had lived across the street for many, many years prior to moving into a full-care skilled nursing home. They were fortunate to be able to share a room and keep one another company.

As you mentioned, the caregiving does not end at that point. There are family consultations, calls from the staff regarding situations like falls and disagreements, lost items, clothing to launder and visits to make.

Now that she is gone, I miss my mother more than ever and cherish the memories we shared over the years she lived nearby.

May God bless you for your kindness in caring for your family's needs.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2018:

John, I am sorry to hear about your wife, and she if fortunate to have you. You may have to consider getting more help at some point.

About six months ago we hired a lady to come in every other week to clean the house for 4 hours. I have had 2 failed back surgeries, so my physical capabilites are not what they once were. We all do our part.

I appreciate your comments so much and wish you the best.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2018:

Aldene, I am so sorry to hear of your experience with lack of family help and the position in which you were left. When my mother was in the nursing homes and rehab facilities there were numerous errands and things to do, so I understand what you went through as far as those demands are concerned.

Alzheimer's disease is so tough, so I am fortunate that my mother doesn't have that problem. I am always glad to hear of new research and some hope on the horizon.

Your advice is important, and I fully agree. I was also frustrated with the lack of help from family, and I so appreciate that my daughter-in-law can help us now.

I think not being a matyr and drawing boundaries is essential for your life. Thank you so much for writing about your experience.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 09, 2018:

Flourish, Yes. your grandmother sounds very difficult! It is difficult to care for someone that acts that way. The dementia may end up causing more problems, but I hope it all works out for her hildren.

I am glad my mother is agreeable. Thanks for sharing your experience.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on October 09, 2018:

Pamela, thank you for writing this and sharing you own experience with your dear mother. You offer very helpful tips and information for caregivers like myself. Although my wife is not severely disabled she has limited mobility and needs help with basic tasks like dressing and I have to do most of the housework etc. It does get tough at times I admit. I hope you and your husband find a way to be able to take the short trip you mention.

Aldene Fredenburg from Southwestern New Hampshire on October 09, 2018:

Thank you for your valuable article.

I was not officially a caregiver, because once my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's my sister and brother-in-law quickly found an assisted living program for her, but as the local daughter I was the one to interact on a regular basis with the home, take her out, take her to doctor visits, follow her decline, and eventually find her a nursing home. I got her involved with alternative treatments that seemed to work for a while and eventually signed her up for a drug trial and traveled with her periodically to the regional medical center, which was two hours away, for a year. On the surface it didn't look like I was impacted, but I had to forgo full-time employment out of the area to remain flexible as my mother's condition deteriorated, and after my mother died I found myself broke, underemployed, and exhausted.

As the one with no husband and no children most of the day-to-day fell on me, while financial and care decisions that impacted my mother and me were made by another family member who lived almost 200 miles away and rarely visited. My sisters didn't and still don't appreciate the efforts I was making, and I got the impression they thought I was foolish for being so involved.

In retrospect our family should have had a plan and should have come up with ways for members to share the responsibilities and the emotional load of caring for a disabled person; we needed a united front and some compassionate professional help, but I'm not sure my efforts to find successful treatment for my mother would have been supported by a conventional professional. I know some of the professionals I interacted with at the assisted-living facility and a day care center were resistant to anything but their own agenda in treating and caring for my mother. They were locked in to their own institutional outlook.

If I had to give one bit of advice to caregivers, it would be to insist that the entire family become involved in some way in caring for the disabled person rather than letting it fall on one person's shoulders. I don't know how to accomplish that -- once in a blue moon I succeeded in *telling* someone to do something and actually got that person to do it -- but it's a big, big piece in avoiding burnout and worse. Don't be a martyr; draw boundaries and delegate as much as you can.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 09, 2018:

My grandmother has always been a pretty difficult, commanding woman to please. Her own mother described her many years ago as the problem child (the one who always gave her "a fit"), and now in her late 80s, that's proving truer than ever. My grandmother has five children who each have busy lives and health problems themselves, but much of the work falls to a select few.

With such a bad disposition and now dementia on top of it, she's chased off helpers who have mown her lawn for years, told a longtime family doctor to screw off (and she's not going back!), spun through a series of paid home health aides, rejected Meals on Wheels because she didn't like the taste, and offended a number of relatives who are in a position to assist her children with caregiving duties.

All of this leaves her children exhausted emotionally and physically, as she has low mobility and self-care skills, cannot prepare her own meals or be trusted not to give away her money to anyone who calls on the phone. She insists in staying in her own home. My mother says people like this last forever.

I'm glad your mother is pleasant and kind and you seem to have a good relationship with her. I live a mile from my own parents and will likely be taking care of them when the time comes.

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