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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 more stressful than caring for people with other serious diseases.

That's because people with Alzheimer's disease often need care 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 in Indianapolis.

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Also, over time, people with Alzheimer's need more and more help with basic needs.

As a result, if you're caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's, you have a higher risk of stress and depression.

You may also start to feel burned out. Your body and mind feel exhausted and you become less able to keep providing care.

Learn to spot the signs of burnout and take steps to avoid it.

Recognize Burnout Before It Arrives

Watch out for these symptoms of caregiver burnout:

  • 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
  • Lack of pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Changes in your appetite or sleep patterns
  • Abuse of alcohol, medications, or illicit drugs

If you think you're getting burned out, talk to a doctor, Austrom says. Your own doctor may be able to help, and so may the doctor who treats the person for whom you're acting as a caregiver.

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. Lewis is dean of the School of Nursing at the University at Buffalo.

Try not to argue with people with Alzheimer's, even when you know their 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 likely wouldn't want you to wear yourself out. 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.

Consider these options:

Ask friends and family to help. Some caregivers use online calendars so the people in their lives can easily sign up to handle tasks. The Alzheimer's Association offers a "care team calendar" on its web site.

You may also bring your circle of friends and family together through Facebook or other social media.

Enroll your loved one in an adult day care program for people with Alzheimer's. He or she can visit with other people while you enjoy a few hours to run errands or simply relax.

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