Managing Caregiver Burnout

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.

What is burnout?

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.

How do I recognize caregiver burnout?

  • Shifts in attitude: A caregiver who once felt enthusiastic about their responsibilities may now feel consistently apathetic and tired over completing them.
  • Emotional agitation: Caregivers experiencing burnout may become frequently irritable, anxious, or depressed. The opposite can also be a sign — some may feel emotionally numb or helpless.
  • Social withdrawal: Feeling overwhelmed, a caregiver may distance themselves from family and friends. They may also neglect their own hobbies and interests.
  • Neglecting self-care: The they may neglect their own health or not get enough sleep, exercise, or healthy meals.
  • Physical symptoms: Like all types of chronic stress, burnout can show up in physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and changes in appetite or sleeping patterns.

What Are The Causes Of Caregiver Burnout?

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:

Confusion Of Their Roles

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.).

Misplaced expectations

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 resources

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.

How can I help someone experiencing caregiver burnout?

  • Talk to the caregiver: Start the conversation by expressing your concern and empathy for their situation. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and concerns, and listen attentively.
  • Identify the need: Assess the caregiver’s situation and determine what type of support they need. For example, they may need help with tasks related to caregiving, or want access to resources for respite care.

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.

  • Refer the caregiver to appropriate resources: Consider referring them to a social worker, support group, or geriatric care manager who can help them with care coordination and other issues related to caregiving. Take an additional step by offering to find the resources on their behalf.
  • Encourage self-care: Encourage the caregiver to take care of themselves by eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and taking breaks to recharge.
  • Assist with responsibilities: If you can, help the caregiver out directly with any tasks or responsibilities they feel overwhelmed by.

I’m burnt out. Where can I find help?

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

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

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.

Adult Day Care

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.

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

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.

Volunteer Services

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.

National Services

Find resources in your area through local chapters of the AARP or Area Agency on Aging.

How can I prevent burnout?

  • Take care of your own health: As a caregiver, it is essential to maintain your physical and mental health. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. Additionally, schedule regular check-ups with your doctor.
  • Seek support: Reach out to family and friends for help with caregiving tasks. You can also join a support group for caregivers or seek out professional support from a therapist or counselor.
  • Take breaks: Take time for yourself to recharge by taking regular breaks and engaging in hobbies or activities you enjoy. A change in environment can also help to reinvigorate the mind and body. Consider going on a walk in a park you don’t normally frequent, or taking a drive into a nearby city. Look for volunteers among friends, family, and neighbors, or help from respite care while you are away.
  • Set boundaries: As a caregiver, it is crucial to set boundaries and learn to say no when you are overwhelmed. Avoid overcommitting yourself to tasks or activities that you cannot manage.
  • Accept help: Don’t be afraid to accept help from others when it is offered. Accepting help can lighten your load and make it easier for you to manage caregiving tasks.
  • Stay organized: Keep track of appointments, medications, and other important information in a planner or digital platform. This can help you stay on top of caregiving tasks and reduce stress.


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.

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