Caregiver Burnout Produces Ripple Effects

Undertaking a caregiver role for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but in the absence of appropriate outlets and coping mechanisms, demands of caregiving can exact a detrimental toll on caregivers.

A variety of family and living situations present the need for caregiver commitment. Caregivers, whether full or part-time, provide help or support for a person in need due to medical, physical or mental conditions or an individual’s functional limitations. Caregivers may become necessary for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, those with physical or intellectual disabilities, military veterans, or elderly family members.

It’s not unusual for caregivers, over time, to become stressed, fatigued and/or depressed. Such feelings may arise from the perception that they labor under unreasonable demands and expectations; concerns over finances, assistance, resources and/or necessary skills; or social isolation and lack of free time. In fact, caregivers sometimes commit excessive time and effort to their responsibilities for loved ones to the detriment of their own health. They may feel guilty about taking a break from their duties and routines. But caregivers’ personal time and occasional breathers should be viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury. Such a break doesn’t necessarily involve long periods away from responsibilities. Taking a short walk or having coffee with a friend can be valuable respites in caregivers’ demanding schedules. And they can make a big difference in a caregiver’s attitude and outlook.

Caregivers of family members suffering from any of the various forms of dementia may deal with special challenges. Individuals with dementia may exhibit emotional, physical, or even behavioral conditions that necessitate specialized care and unique patience and understanding. Cognitive and memory issues sometimes make it particularly difficult to converse and reason with an individual with dementia, resulting in significant caregiver frustration.

Caregiver burnout is characterized by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, which may be accompanied by a change in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Symptoms of burnout include irritability, loss of appetite, feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from friends and family, loss of interest in activities, frequent illness, altered sleep patterns or feelings of intentions to harm oneself.

You can take steps to prevent burnout by providing respite opportunities to enjoy time alone or away from the situation. Share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted family member or friend. Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition or disease and set reasonable goals for yourself. Speak with a professional, such as a therapist, social worker or clergyman. Continue to eat a healthy diet and exercise to maintain your own health. Join a caregiver support group.

Take advantage of respite care services. Respite care offers a temporary break for caregivers, ranging from a few hours of in-home care to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility. ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center provides information on respite services, including a locator to assist in finding appropriate services near you. Be sure to recognize the importance of caring for yourself so that you can continue to be a healthy and effective caregiver.




Ithaca Primary Care

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