sitting senior crying showing caregiver burnout symptoms comforted by woman friend

What is Caregiver Burnout and Fatigue?

Are you helping a friend or family member and feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted? You are NOT alone! Caregiver burnout and fatigue can happen to you. Read our comprehensive post where we review what you need to know about caregiver burnout and fatigue, including what it is, caregiver burnout symptoms and how to prevent it.

 

What You Need to Know About Caregiver Burnout and Caregiver Fatigue

Caregiving by itself is pretty challenging, not to mention added stressors such as complicated family dynamics, financial burdens, and life changes you made to help your loved one.

Caregiving can undoubtedly test your patients, quickly become overwhelming, and significantly impact the caregiver’s physical and emotional well-being.

 

 

What is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout, also called caregiver fatigue, can be defined as a physical or emotional state of exhaustion related to the stress associated with caring for a loved one.

  • Stress is the body’s emotional and physical response to a demanding situation or an external cause, like a tight deadline.
  • Anxiety is usually internal, your body’s response to stress and can occur even if there is no threat.

We know caregiving can be physically and emotionally demanding.

Providing care over months or years can naturally turn short-term stressors into mental health challenges. It can also affect your relationships and ultimately lead to burnout if you don’t look after yourself in the process.

Note that the exhaustion some caregivers experience can also be associated with feelings of guilt, anger, and frustration, sometimes resulting in self-neglect.

 

 

 

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Compassion fatigue is taking on the suffering of others.

It is associated with caregiving when your loved one (the one you are caring for) is experiencing significant physical or emotional pain.

Healthcare professionals, for example first responders and community service workers are susceptible to compassion fatigue because they are frequently exposed to other people’s traumatic experiences.

Compassion fatigue includes emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in people who are caring for others.

For an in-depth review about compassion fatigue including symptoms and caregiver tips, please read our post:  Understanding Compassion Fatigue.

 

 

young female caregiver reading book about caregiver burnout and fatigue symptoms and how to prevent it

Facts about Caregivers

Studies have shown that caregiving can affect your mental and physical health. The report  Caregiving in the United States 2020 (aarp.org) by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving found:

  • Nearly 48 million caregivers care for someone over 18 years old, which means more than 1 in 5 Americans (21.3%) are caregivers.
  • Almost 1 out of 5 caregivers provide unpaid care to an adult with functional or health needs
  • Nearly 1 out of 4 of caregivers (26%) have difficulty coordinating care for their loved one
  • 61% of family caregivers are also working
  • 1 out of 4 caregivers feel caregiving has made their health worse (23 %)
  • Almost 1 out of every 4 caregivers say it is difficult to take care of their health (23%)
  • Nearly 4 out of every 10 caregivers consider their caregiving situation to be highly stressful (36%), while an additional 28% report moderate emotional stress

 

Facts about Caregiver Stress

There was a higher level of emotional stress reported in the caregiving in the U.S. 2020 – AARP Research Report with the following circumstances:

  • When caregivers feel alone (1 out of 5 caregivers reported feeling alone)
  • When caregivers feel they did not have a choice to providing care
  • Those who have been providing care for one year or longer
  • Those caring for a relative (in comparison to those who care for a non-relative)
  • Those in a more involved caregiving situation report higher emotional stress, including those living together with their care recipient, those in high-intensity situations, and those who provide 21 or more hours of care.

 

Caregiver burnout and caregiver fatigue is a widespread issue among caregivers. And as such, it shouldn’t be underestimated as it can impact all aspects of your life and lead to long-term health problems.

 

 

 

 

Senior Woman Sitting On Sofa hands of head Suffering From Caregiver Burnout and Caregiver Fatigue

Common Causes of Caregiver Burnout and Caregiver Fatigue

Causes of caregiver burnout and caregiver fatigue may include:

 

  • A heavy workload can include physical tasks and the emotional energy needed to care for your loved one(s). Besides caring for someone sick at home, you might also have a job, children, a partner, and social commitments. Therefore, you might find it hard to juggle it all.
  • Conflicting demands as you try to balance your life, including demands of your employer, coworkers, family members, along with the needs of the care recipient.
  • The emotional impact of being a caregiver can be a mixture of emotions and various reasons. This may include your past relationship with your loved one, of seeing a loved one physically or mentally decline, complicated family dynamics, and your life experiences that may all contribute to the emotional impact of being a caregiver.
  • Your lack of having or controlling resources (including other people to help) and finances.
  • Training or skills – Not getting the training required to complete some tasks or not having the skill set to manage the care effectively.
  • Lack of free time, whether lack of social time or having no privacy because you have the demands of being a caregiver.
  • Role Confusion: Whether you’re looking after a parent, a partner, or a friend, it can be challenging to separate your position as a caregiver from your role as a child, a spouse, or a friend.
  • Lack of Support: Many caregivers state they feel alone. Lacking a solid network to help you on this challenging journey can result in emotional distress and burnout.

 

 

 

 

busy-woman-standing-writing-many-sticky-notes-on-large-window

Common Causes of Caregiver Burnout 

 

Unrealistic Expectations of Yourself

This includes numerous scenarios, for example,

    • Thinking caregiving is your responsibility, exclusively. Instead, encourage and allow others to help.
    • Juggling too many responsibilities simultaneously, like work, family, volunteer work, social engagements, and caregiving. In fact, 70% of caregivers report experiencing work difficulties due to their caregiver duties. And this can, in turn, create additional stress and anxiety.
    • Unrealistically thinking your loved one’s disease won’t progress, or you will make it better. Talk with the health care team to ensure you have a good understanding of the disease and likely progression.
      • As a caregiver, you want the person you’re caring for to get better, and you’re doing your best to make it happen. Yet, depending on the type of condition they have, it might be unrealistic to expect them to recover completely. For instance, while you can help someone suffering from Alzheimer’s feel comfortable, you can’t expect their declining mental functions to improve.
    • Setting unrealistic expectations can cause a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety, and depression and lead to burnout.

 

Unrealistic Expectations From Others

For example, other family members or the loved one you are helping.

    • If other family members are not contributing, more burden may shift to you.
    • Your loved one, or family members, may not realize the time commitment or the amount of needed care. Or, they may keep asking or expecting you to take on more responsibility than you are capable of.

 

 

 

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms woman laying on pillows looking depressed

 

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms 

When starting to feel caregiver burnout symptoms or caregiver fatigue, some may begin to feel irritable, angry, or strained. If you quit your regular job or reduced work hours because of your caregiving duties, you might have financial concerns.

 

Caregiver burnout symptoms may include the following:

  • Loss of interest doing things you used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from others, including family or friends
  • Increase or decrease in weight
  • Lack of energy or desire to do new things
  • Sleep disturbances, like trouble getting to sleep or not sleeping long enough. Research has shown that sleep disturbance is highly prevalent among caregivers. When caring for a loved one, people tend to experience shorter sleep duration and wake up several times throughout the night. In fact, 76% of caregivers indicate experiencing poor-quality sleep.
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, or not wanting to be around others
  • Having stress or anxiety when your loved one is present
  • Feeling pulled in multiple directions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical or emotional exhaustion
  • Using alcohol or medications excessively
  • Chronic Pain or Physical Problems – Caregiving is physically demanding and can lead to chronic back, neck, knee pain, hip injuries, etc. Besides, high levels of stress hormones can weaken your immune system, and you might become ill more often.

 

 

 

caregiver burnout prevention senior woman exercising on ball with band

 

How to Prevent Caregiver Burnout?

10 Caregiver Burnout Prevention Tips

Some ways you can care for yourself and avoid caregiver burnout and fatigue include:

 

1. Self-care

It is important for caregivers to practice self-care. Self-care is important to stay healthy and in a positive mindset so you can continue providing support to your loved one without burning out.

The benefits of eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, and staying well-hydrated are commonly known. Regularly visiting your doctor for routine care, practicing mindfulness and relaxation can also be helpful.

For a comprehensive review of self-care tips for caregivers, please read our post: Self-Care Tips For Caregivers.

 

 

2. Take Time for Yourself

Besides taking regular breaks, you should also ensure you take some time off for yourself.

While it might not be easy to take an entire afternoon off, try to take at least an hour now and then to relax and do something you enjoy.

After resting for a bit, hopefully you’ll feel better emotionally and mentally and ready to tackle your caregiving duties.

 

Consider taking time for yourself as a necessary tool to help you support others the best you can and avoid debilitating burnout.

 

 

 

young man sitting crying in support group

3. Get help

As mentioned before, looking after someone that’s sick can be isolating. Yet, it doesn’t always have to be.

Reach out to family or friends,  whether to socialize, talk about your struggles, or ask for insight. Ask for their help, whether you need help with a few things around your house or help with caregiver duties.

A licensed therapist may help you through the pressures during your caregiver journey. A therapist can help one find coping strategies, provide helpful talk therapy and provide insight into other stress-reducing therapies such as relaxation techniques.

Another support option includes getting involved in support groups, which you can find either online or offline. Online may be easier, but local support groups are also beneficial, and facetime is usually good socialization.

 

 

4. Technology

Smart home devices can help you monitor things for your loved one. This may make things easier for them, and lighten your burden a little.

  • Remote control devices can monitor many things, such as appliance and light usage, thermostat temperature, or water leaks.
  • Video surveillance can provide some peace of mind if you cannot be with your loved one constantly.
  • There are digital tools that may help your loved one with things such as medication reminders or automated alerts.
  • Use social media. It is an easier way to keep people updated because mass communication is less exhausting than informing people individually. There are sites like MyLifeLine and CaringBridge that have unique privacy settings while allowing you to send the same message to everyone, all at once.

 

 

5. Adjust your Thinking

Don’t let caregiving consume your life.

  • Stop setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, and take some time to re-evaluate and prioritize the things you do.
  • Try to remove unnecessary items from your schedule. Put more effort into scheduling break time and making some time for yourself.
  • Taking a break to relax and recharge will help you approach caregiving and everything else life is throwing at you with a more positive attitude.
  • Involve the entire family in the care of your loved one.
    • Give the family a chance to talk and voice their concerns, however do include open discussions about all of the needed care and that you need help with the responsibilities.
    • Try to encourage each other to take on the tasks they feel most comfortable with when possible.
  • Ask others for help so that you are not shouldering so much of the burden. If help is not available, look into getting respite care.

 

 

alarm clock on paperwork signifying time management

 

6. Time Management

Effective time management helps you control your workday to stick to your schedule without compromising your work-life balance.

It can decrease caregiver stress and help prevent caregiver burnout and fatigue.

There are tools and apps available to help organize the day and monitor important information easier.

For additional information, read our post on expert time management tips for caregivers.

 

 

7. Educate Yourself

Your loved one may have several health issues, multiple providers on their care team, and take several medications.

Try to learn about their health condition, safety considerations, and tips to help you manage them.

Talk with your loved one’s health care providers, and let them know you are caring for your loved one; they can provide helpful information.

 

 

 

female doctor standing holding advance care planning documents in hospital hallway

8. Advance Care Planning

Advance care planning helps mitigate some of the stressors that occur with a crisis or severe health decline.

If you take care of legal, financial, and long-term planning early on, it will help decrease stress later on.

Involve your loved one, and other family members, in as much of the process as possible.

What are their wishes for end-of-life issues, including intubation, do not resuscitate orders (DNR), do they have a power of attorney to help them pay bills if they cannot?

 

In addition to advance care planning, knowing where vital documents are will also help you down the road.

 

Important Documents Include:

  • Financial records including bank statements, prior tax returns, retirement states such as 401K, IRA, retirement benefits
  • Marriage and birth certificate, divorce records
  • Power of Attorney
  • Will or trust
  • Property deeds
  • Safe-deposit box information, including keys
  • Medical information such as health care proxy, living will, DNR, organ donation, provider contact information, medication log, list of known allergies

Advance care planning can be a difficult topic to understand and to discuss.

Read more here about advance care planning and tips to discuss these sensitive topics with your loved one.

 

 

young female caregiver pushing senior man in wheelchair at respite care

 

9. Respite Care Services

Respite care provides short-term help for primary caregivers.

It can also give you that much-needed break and may improve a caregiver’s resiliency.

In addition, the change of pace can also be beneficial for you and stimulating for your loved one. It can usually be arranged for a few hours or several days or weeks.

 

Many insurance plans do not pay for respite care.  Therefore, you may have to pay the cost not covered by insurance or find other funding sources.

Medicare may pay for most of the respite care up to 5 consecutive days if the person receives hospice care and in specific settings. For example, if the respite care is in a skilled nursing facility or hospital.  Medicaid may also offer assistance for respite care.

 

Respite Care Options

Respite care can be provided in an adult day care center, a health care facility, or at home.

Most respite services charge, either by the number of days, weeks or by the hour.

Some respite facilities have 24-hour staff to assist residents and provide meals and entertainment.

 

There are different ways to find respite care.

  • Recruit family to help with caregiving tasks. Ask a family member to fill in for you for a few days or a week.
  • Another option is to consider hiring an aide to go into the home to help. An aide can help with many tasks such as bathing, dressing, medication reminders, food preparation, or taking your loved one to medical appointments.
  • If you don’t have the money to pay for respite care,  see if your house of worship can help.
  • You can also contact your local area agency on aging office to see if they can help you find respite services.

 

 

Senior business woman reviewing resources and documents to prevent caregiver burnout and caregiver fatigue

 

 

10. Community Resources

There may be some resources available in your community to help you or your loved one. For example, there may be visiting nurses,  low or no-cost meal delivery programs, or respite care programs available. These programs can benefit your loved one and reduce some of your stress.

Below we review a few resources that may be helpful.

For an in-depth list of community resources, read our post Senior Resources- Guide for Caregivers.

 

Community Resources: Area Agency on Aging

Your local  Area Agency on Aging is a good starting point to find helpful resources. Each state has an Area Agency on Aging (AAA), that can help you find resources.

The type of support provided by the agency depends on where you live. Their intent is to help make independent living a viable option for seniors. They can usually help with things like health insurance consultation, meals on wheels, legal aid, adult daycare information, and caregiver support services.

Just insert your city/ state or zip code, and find you find your local Area Agency on Aging

 

 

Community Resources: ACL’s Eldercare Locator

The  Eldercare Locator is a popular tool, and worth taking a look at. The locator is provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging and can help you find services for seniors and their families.  Visit the  Eldercare Locator or call 800-677-1116.

 

 

Community Resources: The Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is a excellent resource. They provides a lot of information and support for those with Alzheimer’s Disease and all Dementias.

Not only do they provide disease specific information but also insight and resources for caregivers. They have virtual online support groups and message boards. The Alzheimer’s Association also has a 24/7  help line (800) 272-3900 24/7.

 

 

 

 

Summary

Being a caregiver can be overwhelming. Many family caregivers are balancing numerous responsibilities and may have little support. Caregiver burnout and caregiver fatigue are not uncommon, so it is important to recognize caregiver burnout symptoms and take care of yourself so you stay physically and emotionally healthy. Contacting your Area Agency on Aging is a good start when looking at what community resources are available in your area; they have much knowledge and experience on helping the elderly age at home.

 

Have you ever experienced caregiver burnout before? If so, we’d like to hear about your experience in the comment section below.

 


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