With approximately 44 million Americans providing 37 billion hours of unpaid care each year, many people either have or will take on a caregiving role at some point in their lives.
Caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it can also present many challenges.
Caregiving can take many different forms, but is most commonly associated with caring for older adult family members. Caregivers may be caring for a loved one who is recovering from a recent surgery or has a chronic illness that prevents them from accomplishing daily activities.
For many, caregiving is a long-term responsibility. After years of providing care for others, people often find that they have neglected their own physical, emotional and spiritual health. This leads to what is called caregiver burnout and can happen to anyone who is providing care, whether it’s hands-on, occasional or from a distance.
Caregiver burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by the routine stress, worry and discomfort that can come with caregiving. It can also occur when caregivers feel they don’t have the support they need and try to take on more than they are physically, financially or emotionally able to do.
Burnout not only affects a person’s ability to care for their loved one, but it also puts them at a higher risk of developing their own health concerns. A leading factor when deciding to place a loved one in a long-term care facility is often the caregiver’s own physical health.
By prioritizing their own health and well-being, caregivers are able to improve their quality of life and in turn provide the best possible care to their loved ones.
Recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout
Knowing the signs and symptoms associated with burnout can help you take the appropriate steps to overcome the demands of caregiving.
Common signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Feeling irritable, hopeless and helpless
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Lack of energy
- Inability to fall asleep
- Neglecting caregiver duties
Overcoming caregiver burnout
Overcoming caregiver burnout starts with taking care of your own needs and desires. Maintaining your personal health and well-being enables you to be an effective caregiver.
Be mindful of your health
Don’t feel guilty about setting time aside for yourself. Take time to exercise, get adequate sleep and fuel your body with the foods it needs to feel recharged and energized. Make sure to attend regular doctor appointments and practice preventive care. Caring for someone else starts with caring for yourself.
Get the support you need
Talking to a friend or family member can be helpful, but it’s often not enough to overcome burnout. Join a support group where you can meet with other caregivers, who can help you process your feelings or emotions. There are many specialized support groups for those providing care to loved ones living with chronic illnesses such as cancer or dementia.
Maintain a positive outlook
At times it can be hard to stay positive if your loved one doesn’t show the progress you are hoping for. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects, celebrate the fact that you still have time with your loved one. Let small victories bring you encouragement and show that you are making an impact on their life.
The more you know about your loved one’s illness, the more effective you will be at caring for them. It’s common among older adults to have multiple health conditions that require different medications and healthcare providers to help them manage their health. Go to your loved one’s appointments to learn more about their condition or ask their physician for helpful resources.
Consider respite care
Home health and hospice services are available to provide skilled, compassionate care to your loved one in the comfort of their home. These services are able to help patients manage their disease and provide assistance with activities of daily living. They are also able to connect you with available community resources that can provide additional relief to caregiving duties.
To learn more about home health and hospice services offered by Encompass Health, click here.