As the baby boom generation grows older and more people start to succumb to age-related disease, there is an increasing need for caregivers. While some may be fortunate enough to be able to afford professional assistance, in many cases the role gets passed on to an immediate family member. Although most are happy to take on this position, the role of a caregiver is difficult and can often result in what is known as “caregiver burnout.”
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout happens when the person who has taken on the caregiver role starts to become overwhelmed, stressed and put in a position where they feel helpless and can no longer function as efficiently as they once could. Since people often take on the caregiver role quite suddenly and without warning, caregiver burnout can happen any time – from a few months to a few weeks.
How do I know if I’m experiencing caregiver burnout?
One of the biggest problems with recognizing caregiver burnout is that typically all the focus tends to be on the person who needs the care. As a result, the well-being of the caregiver can get lost in the shuffle, which can make early detection difficult.
“Symptoms of caregiver burnout are often the same symptoms we see with stress or depression,” says Dr. Beth Donaldson, Medical Director at Copeman Healthcare. “This could be weight loss or weight gain, difficulty sleeping, a lack of sleep or an inability to concentrate.”
The biggest and most overwhelming symptom, however, tends to be anger or guilt.
“Often caregivers are made to feel guilty early on for trying to bring in outside help or even taking time away from the person who needs care to take a moment for themselves,” she explains. “This is why it’s so important to ask for help sooner rather than later – possibly even before you might think you need it.”
I don’t have time to be burnt out – can caregiver burnout be prevented?
One of the biggest issues with preventing caregiver burnout is that often no one truly knows when or if they will have to take on the task of becoming a caregiver. It could happen anytime from a person’s early 20s up until the end of their life. Whether it’s a husband who has had back surgery, a sister who develops a mental disability halfway through her life or simply an aging parent, becoming a caregiver is a life-altering reality that is facing many people today.
What are some strategies for dealing with caregiver burnout?
There are a number of different supports to which caregivers can turn in the event that they are suffering from burnout:
- Non-Profit Organizations: Often there are different support groups for the disease or situation that requires a caregiver. Organizations such as the BC Cancer Agency, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, for example, have many established local support groups to which you can turn for help anytime.
- Private Nurses: If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford professional assistance, reach out to your physician for a recommendation of a registered nurse, practical nurse or even a company that can provide a companion for the person at home.
- Social Workers: Ask your physician if they can help to set you up with a social worker who might be able to provide specific advice on the case in your home.
- Friends & Family: Whether they can provide an hour or two of company for the person at home or simply lend an ear to hear out your frustrations, this is a great resource at any point in time.
As for the biggest piece of advice, Dr. Donaldson really just recommends reaching out to someone who can hear out your frustrations and to provide support. She also suggests making sure to take time for yourself.
“It’s really important to take the time to exercise, sleep, eat well, see friends and do things that make you happy. It’s your life too, and if you’re not feeling happy you can’t be in a position to do that for someone else. At the end of the day, a small amount of support will go a long way!”