Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It may go along with a change in attitude -- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can happen when you don’t get the help you need, or if you try to do more than you’re able -- either physically or financially. Caregivers who are "burned out" may have fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
What Are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are much like the symptoms of stress and depression. They may include:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling blue, cranky, hopeless, and helpless
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Getting sick more often
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Using alcohol and/or sleep medications too much
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 if you think you might hurt yourself or anyone else.
What Causes Caregiver Burnout?
Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect themselves. Other things that can lead to caregiver burnout include:
- Role confusion -- You may feel confused to be a caregiver. It can be hard to separate this role from the one of spouse, child, or friend.
- Unrealistic expectations -- You may expect your care to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the person you care for. This may be unrealistic for patients who have a progressive disease such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
- Lack of control -- It can be frustrating to deal with lacking the money, resources, and skills to manage your loved one's care well.
- Unreasonable demands -- You may take on too much, partly because you see providing care as your job alone.
- Other factors -- You may not recognize when you’re burned out and get to the point where you can’t function well. You may even get sick yourself.
How Can I Prevent Caregiver Burnout?
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent caregiver burnout:
- Know your limits, and do a reality check of your personal situation. Recognize and accept your potential for caregiver burnout.
- Find someone you trust -- such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor -- to talk to about how you feel.
- Set realistic goals. Accept that you may need help, and turn to others to handle some tasks.
- Be realistic about the disease your loved one has, especially if it’s a progressive disease such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
- Set aside time for yourself, even if it's just an hour or two. Taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity if you're going to be an effective caregiver.
- Talk to a professional, such as a therapist, social worker, or clergy member.
- Find caregiver support groups or workshops that can help you find ways to manage stress.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about the illness, the more effective you’ll be as a caregiver.
- Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
Where Can I Turn for Help With Caregiver Burnout?
If you are already experiencing stress and depression, get medical attention. Stress and depression are treatable disorders.
If you want to help prevent burnout, consider turning to the following resources:
- Home health services -- These agencies provide home health aides and nurses for short-term care if your loved one is acutely ill. Some agencies provide short-term respite care.
- Adult day care -- These programs offer a place for seniors to socialize, take part in activities, and get needed medical care and other services.
- Nursing homes or assisted living facilities -- These institutions sometimes offer short-term respite stays to provide caregivers a break.
- Private care aides -- These professionals can help figure out your needs and coordinate care and services.
- Caregiver support services -- These include support groups and other programs that can help caregivers recharge their batteries. You can also meet others with similar issues, get information, and find more resources.
- Area agency or commission on aging -- Contact your local organization or your local chapter of the AARP for services available in your area.
- National organizations -- Search online for local chapters of national organizations (such as Family Caregiver Alliance) that help people with illnesses such as Parkinson's disease or stroke. These groups can provide resources and information.