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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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What You Can Do to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

By Eric Metcalf, MPH
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD

As much as you love the person in your life who has Alzheimer's disease, taking care of them can be stressful.

People with the condition often need help for decades rather than a few months or years, says Mary G. 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.

Recommended Related to Alzheimer's

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment

If you think you or a loved one has signs of Alzheimer’s, see a doctor so you can know for sure. The symptoms of the disease can look a lot like those of many other conditions, including: Infections Taking medications that don’t work well together Small strokes Depression Low blood sugar Thyroid problems Brain tumors Parkinson’s disease The doctor will test you or your loved one to see if you really have Alzheimer’s. She’ll start with a physical exam and tests of your...

Read the Understanding Alzheimer's Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment article > >

For caregivers, that stress can build into burnout. It can also make you more likely to get depressed. It helps a lot if you can notice when you start to feel overwhelmed, and then take steps to get back on track. If you do that for yourself, you’ll be better prepared to take care of your loved one.

How to Spot Burnout

When your responsibilities start to overwhelm you, you may feel:

  • More frustrated and impatient
  • Exhausted
  • Teary
  • Discouraged
  • Less hungry or more hungry
  • Less pleasure in things you used to enjoy

You may also notice that you sleep more (or less) than usual, or that you are tempted to use alcohol or other drugs to take the edge off.

If any of these things happen, tell your doctor or the one who is treating the person you’re caring for. They may be able to help, Austrom says.

Go Easy on Your Loved One and Yourself

When your loved one seems to be living in the past or wants to argue with you, or says or does things over and over, remember that that’s the disease talking.

Try not to argue with her, even when you know she’s not right. Also, 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. It’s going to take too much time and energy, and you won’t persuade them. It just add stress to your life.

Give yourself a break. Focus on doing what you can for your loved one. Chances are, you don’t have special training in caregiving, and you probably have lots of other responsibilities, such as your own family and a job.

"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, partner, or other loved one with the disease wouldn't want you to wear yourself out. So know your limits and try not to push too far past them, too often.

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