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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Are You at Risk for Caregiver Burnout?

By Eric Metcalf, MPH
WebMD Feature

Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease can be stressful.

People with the condition often need help for decades, rather than a few months or years, says Mary Guerriero Austrom, PhD, an expert on caregivers and Alzheimer's disease at the Indiana University School of Medicine. They also need more and more help with basic needs over time.

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For caregivers, that stress can build into burnout. It can also lead to a higher risk of depression. But if you know the signals that you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can take steps to avoid a problem.

How to Spot Burnout

The warning signs include:

  • Growing frustration and lack of patience with the person you're taking care of
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling overwhelmed with all your duties
  • Tearfulness
  • A sense that life isn't ever going to get better or easier
  • Not enjoying the things that used to interest you
  • Changes in your appetite or sleep patterns
  • Abuse of alcohol, medications, or illegal drugs

Talk to a doctor if you think you're getting burned out, Austrom says. Your own doctor may be able to help, and so might the one who’s treating the person you’re caring for.

Go Easy on Your Loved One and Yourself

Resist the urge to correct your loved one's behaviors or word choices, says Marsha Lewis, PhD, dean of the School of Nursing at the University at Buffalo.

Try not to argue with him, even when you know his point of view isn't correct. Trying to be "right" takes time and adds needless stress to your life.

Also, don't try to be the perfect caregiver.

"Most healthy older adults, when asked about their preferences for care if they can no longer care for themselves, say, 'I wouldn't want to be a burden on my children,'" Austrom says. Your parent, spouse, or other loved one with the disease likely wouldn't want you to wear yourself out. So know your limits and try not to push past them.

Find Help

You're less likely to burn out if you share caregiving tasks with other people, Austrom says.

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