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Caring for a loved one can be extremely rewarding and satisfying. It can however also be physically and emotionally demanding. Many caregivers often new to the situation, may not realize the full implications of caring for someone, and the challenges that they may potentially face.
Caring for someone can often be overwhelming and an exhausting experience. You may have to juggle going to work, with carrying out housework and grocery shopping, looking after your spouse and kids as well as caring for the patient. Caring for someone can often be a full-time job in itself, especially if the patient has a chronic illness or disability which can often leave very little time for the caregiver.
Taking good care of yourself while caring for others is especially important if you want to avoid the risk of burnout. If you take on the position of being a caregiver for another human being, who is ill or frail, you must first look to your own care. If you neglect your own wellbeing, your mind and body will not allow you to properly care for the patient.
In this article, we will cover what caregiver burnout is, what the common symptoms are and the best ways to combat burnout.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
Many carers may not recognize that they have become stressed while caring for a loved one. They may become irritable, and depressed and they may not be getting sufficient sleep, which can impact their own health and judgement. Insufficient sleep can be a problem among caregivers, 36.7% of caregivers have reported that they do not get enough sleep.
Anxiety and feelings of not being able to cope, are many of the symptoms of burnout. Their health may begin to fail. 40.7% of caregivers report having two or more chronic diseases. Anger and frustration, and loss of their interests of life, may begin. Loss of sleep, and disinterest in food, may cause them to drink and smoke excessively.
Best Ways to Avoid in Burnout
What carers must decide before they burnout is not to push themselves to the point of desperation. Looking after both their physical and mental wellbeing is vital. They need their sleep, nutrition and support, to be able to cope with any situation.
Some of the ways in which the caregiver can prevent burnout include:
Care for Yourself
Many carers feel guilty about taking a break. It is important though to get out and free the mind. Outdoor activities, and meeting friends and family socially are essential as caring for someone can often prove a lonely existence. It is important to enjoy the company of others.
Music and hobbies are a form of distraction. This will help with the daily routine of being a carer.
It is important to look out for the signs of burnout. If you suspect you’re suffering with any symptoms or you’re feeling depressed, speak to your doctor. They will be able to advise and support you as well as refer you to a therapist or counselor if needed.
Set aside some time for exercising. Regular exercise is also a great mood booster allowing you to stay both physically and mentally fit. Relaxation exercises such as yoga, deep breathing or performing mindfulness mediation can also prove beneficial for the mind and body, allowing you to unwind and forget about the stresses of your caregiving duties.
Don’t forget the importance of eating healthily. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat is very true. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is vital for your wellbeing. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein foods such as poultry and oily fish. Try to cut down on items with high saturated fat such as butter, cream, cookies, cakes, fatty or processed meats etc. Avoid consuming sugary snacks and beverages. To stay hydrated, drink water or unsweetened drinks. This is also important for the patient.
Get your sleep. Struggling to get a good night’s sleep can often be a problem for a caregiver. While it can be difficult to unwind after a stressful day caring for someone, lack of sleep can adversely affect your wellbeing and increase the risk of burnout. It is important therefore that you don’t neglect your sleep.
Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night. If you find it difficult trying to fall asleep, have a warm bath or drink a milky drink before going to bed.
Get Help from Friends & Family
It is important to try and involve other family members for any help that they may be able to provide.
They may not fully understand what you’re going through and the struggles you’re facing, so speak to friends and family. They may be able to provide some emotional support as well as share some responsibilities with you, so never be afraid to ask for help.
Even if they are unable to assist with caregiving duties, they may be able to assist with other tasks such as picking-up groceries, food preparation etc which will give you some time for yourself to relax and unwind.
Join a Support Group
Finding help from relevant support groups can also be particularly helpful. Online and local support groups will allow you to meet other carers in a similar situation as yourself. You will be able to share ideas as well as concerns and get help and advice on the best ways to care for your loved one.
Good resources to find support groups include:
- Eldercare Locator – Set-up by the U.S. Administration on Aging, it allows users to search by zip code, city or state to order to find suitable help in your local community. It also has resources on related topics such as housing, elder rights, insurance and benefits.
- Community Resource Finder – A helpful resource for caregivers looking after family members with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Set-up by the Alzheimer’s Association and AARP, it provides advice on medical care services as well as local support groups, programs and services.
- Smart Patients Caregiver Community – An online community for both patients and caregivers.
- Family Caregiver Alliance (Family Care Navigator) – Allows caregivers to search for local services, legal resources, government and disability programs in their particular state.
- AlzConnected – An online community where people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia and caregivers, can ask questions and get relevant support.
- Alzheimer’s Association (Support Groups) – A resource that allows you to search for relevant Alzheimer’s support groups within your local area.
- VA Caregiver Support – Support for caregivers looking after veterans. A support line is also provided, providing counselling, and support for caregivers.
- Cancer Experience Registry – Support group for those living with cancer and for caregivers.
- Caregiver Action Network – Support group for caregivers looking after users with disabilities, chronic conditions and seniors.
- Help for Cancer Caregivers – Provides support and advice for those caring for individuals with cancer.
Get Respite Care
If you need to take a break, consider using respite care. Respite care may involve the patient staying at a nursing home nearby. This may involve a short stay of a couple of weeks or even a few months.
A relief caregiver can also be employed to look after your loved one at home and sit with them for a few hours a day on a temporary or on-going basis. They can help out with caring duties such as bathing, dressing, housekeeping and providing companionship. This will give you some time to do other activities that you need to do, and time on your own.
Alternatively, an adult day center is also another possibility. The patient can be looked after during the day allowing both parties to have some time apart. It allows the patient to socialize and participate in group activities with other individuals of a similar age and it also allows the caregiver some independence at home.
Useful online resources to find respite care and adult day centres in your local area include:
- ARCH National Respite Network – Helps caregivers find respite services in their local community.
- National Adult Day Services Association – Free resource that allows you to search by zip code or state to find adult day centers locally.
- Medicare (Home Health Compare) – Allows you to search for local home health agencies, it provides a quality of patient care rating allowing you to easily compare them, so that you can choose the best ones to look after your loved one.
Participate in Fun Activities
In many cases, you and the patient, may feel very isolated. Try and find some fun activities that you both enjoy and that can prove a welcome distraction.
Depending on the severity of the patient’s conditions, activities such as craftwork, painting, knitting, books, joining a book group or simply watching a movie together could be possible options.
A car ride to the local park or the countryside are good ways to enhance their health and wellbeing.
Get Help with Your Financial Situation
If you’ve had to cut down your hours at work or you’ve had to even give up your job in order to care for someone, you may find that your finances may be impacted. Worrying about your financial situation can often be deeply concerning, and put undue stress on you, especially as you may face increased costs to look after your loved one.
If you’re struggling to hold down a full-time job as well as care for someone, speak to your manager or HR department about your situation. They may be able to offer you a range of options including flexible working hours or even cutting down your working hours. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also allows employers to grant 12 weeks of unpaid leave to their employees for caring for a close relative (spouse, child or parent).
You may also find that you may be liable for benefits if you’re caring for someone. Potential benefits and caring costs that you may be entitled to will depend on your particular state that you live in.
Useful online resources where you can find out about such information include:
- Medicaid Program – If the patient is eligible for Medicaid, the caregiver may be entitled to a number of benefits depending on the state.
- BenefitsCheckUp – A useful free resource from the National Council on Aging that allows you to find out about possible programs for seniors with limited savings/income on ways to save money on prescriptions, health care, utilities etc.
- Social Security – Provides advice and support on Social Security programs and benefits.
Satisfaction of Being a Caregiver
While caring for someone can be physically and emotionally demanding. It is important to remember that it can also be an immensely rewarding experience, knowing that you’re providing the best possible care for your loved one. It can often bring you closer to the person you’re caring for.
While it can’t often be easy to be at the beck and call of the person you’re caring for 24 hours a day, it is vital that you know your limits and you take time off to properly care for yourself in order to avoid burning out.
Despite all the demands of caregiving, when you have handled all the challenges and difficult times, you will find the dedication that you have given your loved one, has all been worthwhile.