Serving as a caregiver for a loved one can be a wonderful thing. It often allows ill or disabled individuals to remain in their own home, surrounded by familiar surroundings. However, it can often take a toll on the person providing care, and can sometimes lead to the caregiver feeling depleted or exhausted. This feeling is commonly known as caregiver burnout.1
The National Alliance for Caregiving reported an estimated 43.5 million adults provided care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged loved one in 2014. The organization also reported the average caregiver spends nearly 25 hours per week providing assistance, the equivalent of a part-time job.2
While being a caregiver can be rewarding, it can also be emotionally, physically and mentally taxing. Burnout tends to happen when the caregiver neglects his or her own needs — often without realizing it’s happening.
If you are providing care for an ill or disabled loved one, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of burnout in the early stages. The ALS Association reports some of these patterns as signs of burnout for caregivers:3
- Irritability and impatience
- Overreacting to small things or comments made by others
- Problems sleeping
- Abuse of food, tobacco, drugs or alcohol
- Feelings of isolation, alienation or resentment
- Increasing levels of stress
The time and money dedicated to helping someone else can also be a drain on the caregiver. While retirees in particular may feel they have the time available to take care of a friend in need, it’s important they consider how that kind of time commitment could affect their own energy levels and financial resources.
How do you avoid caregiver burnout? Here are five suggestions from the Caregiver Action Network:4
- Seek support. Providing care can be isolating. Reach out to family and friends, and tell them exactly what you need. Many of them want to help, but they aren’t sure how. Also explore online options. The AARP provides a list of resources for caregivers,5 including online communities where people can share experiences.
- Take breaks. Letting someone else provide care can be difficult, since others don’t do things quite the same way and it might be challenging for the person receiving care to adjust to someone new. Taking a break, however, is important for both mental and physical respite.
- Don’t neglect your own health. It might take some creativity, but find ways to work in activity, even if it’s taking a 15-minute walk. Pay attention to your own nutrition. Try not to let go of all the things that bolster your mental health; it can be easy to neglect your own hobbies and interests.
- Get the paperwork in order. Organize medical records, legal paperwork and other items so they’re easy to find. Introduce yourself to your loved one’s lawyer, accountant, financial professional and other service providers. Provide them with a copy of a power of attorney so you can have access to records if needed. If you have questions about how taking the time to care for someone else could affect you financially, don’t hesitate to reach out to your financial professional.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Caregiving is a tough job. Recognizing that you also have physical, mental and emotional needs will help you avoid burnout and continue to provide the best care to your loved one.
Content prepared by Amy Ragland.
1 Senior Helpers. “Caregiver Burnout.” http://www.seniorhelpers.com/resources/family-caregiver-burnout. Accessed May 21, 2017.
2 National Alliance for Caregiving in Collaboration with AARP. June 2015. Pages 6 and 33. “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015.” http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_CaregivingintheUS_Final-Report-June-4_WEB.pdf. Accessed May 21, 2017.
3 ALS Association. “Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout.” http://www.alsa.org/als-care/caregivers/caregivers-month/symptoms-of-caregiver-burnout.html. Accessed May 21, 2017.
4 Caregiver Action Network. “10 Tips for Family Caregivers.” http://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers. Accessed May 21, 2017.
5 AARP. “Resources Caregivers Should Know About.” http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-08-2012/important-resources-for-caregivers.html. Accessed May 21, 2017.
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