When you are responsible for an elderly loved one, it’s natural to want to provide the best care possible. However, your tasks may become physically and emotionally exhausting to the point of causing caregiver burnout. In this article, we explain the common signs of caregiver burnout and what you can do to prevent it.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout, also referred to as caregiver fatigue, is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion in a person who takes care of an elderly or disabled loved one.
Caregiver burnout occurs gradually over time as the caregiver attempts to do tasks that are increasingly more demanding, both physically and emotionally. Accumulated stress and fatigue will eventually lead to irritability, anger, and depression, in addition to a weakened immune system and frequent illness. Ultimately, the caregiver’s attitude will change from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.
There are many factors that can cause caregiver burnout. Below, we list the most common ones.
Causes of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver role strain
As you focus on providing care for a loved one, you risk neglecting your own well-being. Consequently, your caregiver duties may become even harder to carry out, causing caregiver role strain that affects your mood and physical health. Long-term caregiver role strain will ultimately lead to caregiver burnout.
Looking after a loved one is difficult if you lack the necessary skills and knowledge about how to provide, manage, and organize care. You may take on more than is physically and financially reasonable, resulting in exhaustion and burnout.
It’s normal for caregivers to believe that their assistance will have a positive effect on their loved one’s health and well-being. Unfortunately, this is often unrealistic, especially if the patient suffers from a progressive disease like Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Unrealistic expectations can lead to frustration and stress and, in the long run, cause caregiver burnout.
Lack of control
Most caregivers are not professionally trained to carry out demanding tasks that their role requires. The feeling of lack of control in providing care can lead to anger and frustration as the senior grows more helpless.
Taking care of an elderly person is extremely demanding and it is essential to recognize the warning signs of being overwhelmed by caregiving tasks. Here are the symptoms of caregiver burnout to look out for.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
Symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to those of stress and depression. They can be physical, emotional, and social.
- Altered eating patterns
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Increased sugar consumption
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Increased smoking
- Chronic tiredness and exhaustion
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Frequent headaches
- Sudden onset of back pain
- Neck pain
- Muscle aches
- Increased reliance on pain medications
- Frequent illnesses
- Stooped posture
- Mood swings
- Anger and irritability
- Crying spells
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty concentrating
- Overreacting to criticism
- Marital problems
- Intolerance of others
- Social withdrawal
- Resentment toward family members
- Neglecting or mistreating the care recipient
Timeline of Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout occurs in stages. Here’s what you can expect to experience as you provide care for your loved one month after month.
At 1-18 months
- Aware of the differences between providing long-term care as opposed to acute care
- Eager to provide the best care possible
- Remains optimistic, caring, and supportive
- If working, spends vacation time for caregiving
At 21 months
- Finds it harder to keep on top of things as the loved one’s personal care needs increase
- Starts taking medication, usually for sleep or headaches
- Takes more time off from work
At 24-32 months
- Caregiving consumes most of the time
- Emotional and physical resources drained
- Has less contact with others
- Experiences feelings of powerlessness
- If working, not able to attend training for advancement and skips promotions
At 32 months
- Stress becomes harder to conceal
- Starts using medication for musculoskeletal pain
- Starts using tranquilizers
- Experiences sleeping problems
- Is often angry and irritable
- Has even less contact with others
- If working, scales back further on work hours or responsibilities
At 38 months
- Feels unhealthy
- Finds it hard to get up
- Never feels rested
- May have hypertension or colitis
- Has symptoms of chronic fatigue
- Loses the will to take care of him/herself
- Is unable to manage the household
- Feels helpless, guilty, and a failure
After 50 months
- Experiences chronic fatigue
- Becomes isolated
- Is unwilling to ask for help
As the timeline above shows, caring for a loved one can slowly take a toll on your mental and physical health. Fortunately, there are several proactive steps you can take to prevent caregiver burnout.
How To Prevent Caregiver Burnout
Ask for help
If you are overwhelmed by your caregiving tasks, don’t hesitate to reach out to friends and family for help. They may be willing to share at least some of your responsibilities. You may also want to take advantage of respite care services, such as in-home care and adult day care facilities. They will offer you a much needed break from your duties, allow you to rest, and be more present and focused on caregiving.
Take some time for self care
Caregivers often feel guilty if they spend time on themselves instead of being constantly focused on their loved ones. However, dedicating some time to self care is essential for maintaining your physical and mental health.
Keep a journal
Journaling is an effective way to reduce stress and prevent caregiver burnout. Keeping a gratitude list and tracking your accomplishments will help you suppress negative thoughts and improve your overall health and well-being.
Maintain a healthy diet
Balanced nutrition, consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, is an important factor in preventing stress and burnout. You should avoid processed foods and foods high in refined sugars, which increase inflammation in the body.
Take some time off
Taking some time off from your duties will help you recharge batteries and remain positive. Make sure to incorporate a favorite hobby or activity like reading, listening to music, or even just taking a walk into your daily routine.
Know you are appreciated
Feeling unappreciated is a common issue in caregiving. Not only can it cause resentment, but also increase your stress levels, leading to burnout.
Try to understand why others might not show their appreciation for your hard work. Family members or friends who haven’t done any caregiving may not know how demanding your work is. Seniors with serious chronic illnesses and declining physical or cognitive abilities will focus on their own suffering. They may appreciate you, but are not able to express it properly.
In this situation, it’s essential that you appreciate yourself. Think of the good reasons you’ve chosen to take on this responsibility and how much you’ve helped your loved one.
Join a support group
Look for a caregiver community that you can turn to in times of frustration and despair. You will quickly realize that you are not alone and that there are other caregivers with similar experiences who are ready to lend a listening ear and offer advice.
Know your limits
Caregiving consumes a lot of time and energy, and not knowing your limits can cause caregiver burnout. You should keep in mind that you can’t be a good caregiver if you don’t take care of your own health. Make sure to eat a healthy diet, exercise on a regular basis, and get medical attention when needed.
Develop tools for coping
To prevent caregiver burnout, it’s important to find ways of keeping the stress under control, such as:
- Ask for support and assistance when needed.
- Have optimism, compassion, and empathy.
- Learn new skills to help you feel more confident in your caregiver role.
- Practice deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to help you cope with difficult situations.