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Caregiving by the numbers: family caregivers provide 20 hours of unpaid in-home care per week; 87% of caregivers are not getting enough sleep; 91% of caregivers whose health is in decline report depression; caring for an Alzheimer's patient can shorten a person's life by 4 to 8 years.  


 

Caregiver Burnout and How to Protect Your Health

 

 

There are an estimated 75 million adults in North America caring for an elderly, disabled or chronically ill family member. A large portion of these family caregivers are part of the “sandwich generation,” raising children and holding down full-time jobs in addition to caring for aging parents. Juggling multiple responsibilities along with the physical and emotional toll of caregiving leaves little time for personal care; the majority of family caregivers report symptoms of depression, high levels of stress and general feelings of being overburdened. A Commonwealth Fund study found that caregivers are twice as likely as the general population to develop chronic illness earlier in life. Too often caregivers feel pressure to “do it all” and are unaware of resources available to help them. Does this sound like you or someone you know? In order to provide the best care for your loved ones, you must first be sure you are healthy. One of the most important steps you can take to ensure quality care is to understand the signs of burnout and ways to prevent it.

 

The Signs of Burnout

 

Psychologists define burnout as “a debilitating psychological condition brought about by unrelieved stress”. Because burnout is not immediately apparent in the way that a sore throat or rash is, for example, caregivers can often deny or simply be unaware of the warning signs. Often, burnout is noticed first by family members or friends.  


Signs of burnout include:

  • - Feeling pessimistic and dissatisfied
  • - Decreased energy or emotional exhaustion
  • - Withdrawing from friends or social interactions
  • - Loss of interest in work or hobbies
  • - Increased use of alcohol or medication to relax
  • - Becoming impatient, irritable, or argumentative
  • - Lowered resistance to illness
     

Evaluate the impact that caregiving has on your life with this assessment.

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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".

 

 

Preventing Burnout

 

The most important step you can take to combat burnout is to closely monitor your stress level. Prolonged high stress hinders the immune system’s ability to fight disease and can lead to fatigue, depression and eventually, burnout. The following strategies can help relieve stress:

 

 

Join a caregiver support group.
A support group is a safe place for you to share experiences and frustrations with other caregivers as well as seek advice. Call your local senior center, Area Agency on Aging, hospital, physician or place of worship to inquire about meetings. If you can’t leave the house, virtual support groups are available online.

 

Set reasonable limits.
You can’t be a successful caregiver if you give until there is nothing left. Be realistic about how much time and energy you can devote to caregiving.  Pull back if you feel that you’re surpassing this threshold.

 

Take care of your health.
Visit your doctor for regular check-ups. Exercise for at least 20 minutes, two or three times a week—even a simple walk around the neighborhood is enough. Maintain a healthy diet, including the 7 super foods—blueberries, dark chocolate, fish, nuts, eggs, vegetables and flax seed. In addition, make sure to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

 

Make time in your schedule for activities you enjoy.
Incorporate “me” time into your schedule. Listen to music, garden, cook, go see a movie, or just walk the dog. Think about activities you’ve done in the past that you found enjoyable and try to find the time to schedule them in.  

 

Start a journal.
Writing can be therapeutic, allowing you to voice all concerns, frustrations and emotions.  If you are more technologically savvy, consider starting a blog focused on your experience as a caregiver—this will help you express yourself and also provide useful information to other family caregivers.  
 

Reach out for help.

Remember you’re not alone. Call a friend, family member, or even a volunteer from a senior center or church and suggest specific things that they can do to help you. You can also hire a caregiver from a reputable home care agency, such as the leading provider of in-home respite care, Home Care Assistance, so that you can recharge.
 

 

For more helpful tips, read this article, featuring Home Care Assistance President Lily Sarafan.

 

 

Listen to this webinar, featuring Dr. Hoblyn, for more information about caregiver burnout and ways in which you can protect your health.

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 Dr. Hoblyn is a psychiatrist with expertise in treating adults with mental health conditions. She currently oversees the Inpatient Mental Health Services at the Palo Alto VA and is on faculty as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine.

 

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.