Caregiving by the numbers: 66% are women; family caregivers provide 20 hours of unpaid in-home care per week; caring for an Alzheimer's patient can shorten a person's life by 4 to 8 years. 46% of caregivers have clinical depression.
Caregiver Burnout and How to Protect Your Health
There are currently 75 million adults in North America alone who are caring for an elderly, chronically ill or disabled family member and the vast majority are also raising children and holding down full-time jobs. Many of these family caregivers report symptoms of depression, high levels of stress and general feeling of being overburdened—Does this sound like you or someone that you know?
If you are part of the “sandwich generation”, defined as a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children and juggling other life responsibilities, the pressure to “do it all” places you at risk for physical and mental health detriments. Many family caregivers report that they feel alone and unsure of what resources are available to them and what steps they can take to decrease their stress levels. Knowing the signs of caregiver burnout and becoming knowledgeable about the steps to prevent caregiver burnout are paramount in ensuring your own health so that you can better care for the health and wellness of your loved one.
The Signs of Burnout
Psychologists define burnout as “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress.” Because burnout is not tangible—burnout isn’t immediately, outwardly apparent in the way that sore throat or rash are, for example, family caregivers can often deny or simply be unaware of the signs of burnout. Sometimes burnout is noticed first by other family members and friends around you. Pay attention to these warning signs:
- – Feeling pessimistic and dissatisfied
- – Decreased energy or emotional exhaustion
- – Withdrawing from friends or social interactions
- – Loss of interest in work or enjoyable activities
- – Increased use of alcohol or medication to relax
- – Becoming impatient, irritable, or argumentative
- – Lowered resistance to illness
The most important step that you can take to combat burnout is to closely monitor your stress level. A high stress level lowers resistance to disease and leads to fatigue, depression and eventually, burnout. The following strategies can help:
Find a caregiver support group.
Most communities have services or groups where you can confide in others who are also caregivers and receive emotional support. Call your local senior center, area Agency on Aging, hospital senior services, physician or church. If you can’t leave the house, search the Internet for support groups.
Evaluate the impact that caregiving has on your life with this assessment.
If you are one of the millions of family caregivers experiencing clinically significant symptoms of depression, a weakened immune system, increased stress levels or sleep deprivation, you may be experiencing "burnout".
Being an effective, yet responsible caregiver means learning how to take care of yourself first so that you can provide healthy support and compassion to others. These strategies will help you become a better caregiver and avoid the debilitating effects of burnout.
As part of our mission in changing the way the world ages, it’s important that we not only provide older adults high caliber care that enables them to live happier, healthier lives at home, but that we also advocate for the quality of life of the professional and family care providers who provide care day in and day out.