As the population grows older and healthcare costs rise, family members are taking on bigger caregiving responsibilities. In the United States alone, a little over one in five people have acted as informal caregivers within the past 12 months (2020, AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving).
While taking care of a loved one can be highly rewarding, most people who have done it can affirm that there are many stressors involved as well. Additionally, as providing care is usually a long-term endeavor, caregivers can begin to feel burnt out over time.
Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional fatigue caused by chronic stress. This can occur when a need is not being met, stress is not being managed properly, or the caregiver is physically or mentally overexerting themselves for long periods of time. Caregiver burnout can also happen if one doesn’t have access to needed support.
Caregivers frequently overlook their own emotional, physical, and spiritual health due to the weight of their role and responsibilities. Here are some common contributing factors to burnout:
Many people are unexpectedly thrust into the role of caregiving. After this happens, it can be incredibly difficult to distinguish between their roles and responsibilities as caregivers versus other relationships in their life (such as being a partner, friend, sibling, child, etc.).
It’s natural to expect a positive outcome when someone works hard on something. However, this may be an unrealistic expectation in cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s, where a patient’s condition will continue to progress despite the caregiver’s best efforts. While a caregiver may rationally understand this, it can still have a negative impact on their emotional health and motivation.
Unreasonable demands may be made on the caretaker by some family members, including siblings, grown children, or even the patient. The primary caregiver may also see caregiving as their sole responsibility, and give themselves too much to do as a result.
Lack of funds, resources, and experience or knowledge to efficiently plan, manage, and organize their loved one’s care can leave many caregivers feeling frustrated.
Respite care is a type of temporary care provided to patients in order to give caregivers a break from their responsibilities. Respite care can take place at home, in a care facility, adult daycare, or specialized respite care centers.
Seek medical assistance if you are experiencing any physical symptoms or have gotten sick. Consider the following options on where and how to find help:
Support groups can offer a sense of community and provide a safe space for caregivers to share their experiences and challenges. You can search for local caregiver support groups through the Alzheimer’s Association or other organizations that support dementia caregivers.
Respite care provides temporary relief for caregivers, allowing them to take a break and tend to their own needs. Respite care services can be found through local home health agencies, through hired individual caretakers, adult day care centers, and more.
Seniors can interact with each other and participate in a range of activities together with trained care and clinical staff around, and receive other benefits at these programs.
Your provider can offer guidance and resources for managing caregiver burnout. They may be able to refer you to local services or provide medication to help manage symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Some organizations offer volunteer services to help with tasks like grocery shopping, transportation, and companionship for the person with dementia. You can find programs near you through the National Volunteer Caregiving Network (NVCN) or through local faith-based organizations.
Remember that taking care of yourself is essential to being an effective caregiver. By being aware of your own capacity as a caregiver and protecting your physical and mental health, you can prevent burnout and provide the best possible care for your loved one with dementia.