Caregiver Burnout: What Happens When You Can No Longer Cope?

A person in a wheelchair.
Caring for an aging loved one is a noble and selfless act. Day in and day out, you clean their house, drive them where they need to go, and perhaps even help with their basic self-care (like bathing and dressing). You also make time to socialize with them, ensuring that their needs for intellectual stimulation and human interaction are met.
But you have your own life as well – at least, you’re trying to. You may have a full or part-time job, responsibilities related to your immediate family, and perhaps even health concerns of your own. Some days, it’s hard just to catch your breath, let alone take any recreational time for yourself. But this is normal, right? Don’t all caregivers feel like this from time to time?

They certainly do, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s happening to you. Caregiver burnout is a serious condition that can put both you and your loved one at risk. Learn the warning signs (and dangers) here.

Signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout

The symptoms of caregiver burnout are actually quite similar to those for depression. See if any of the following apply to you:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and others you previously enjoyed spending time with
  • Loss of interest in fun activities and hobbies
  • Feeling sad, easily irritated, and/or hopeless about the future
  • Increase or decrease in appetite or weight
  • Sleeping much more or much less than you normally do
  • Contracting contagious illnesses more easily than you did before
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or the person you’re caring for
  • Exhaustion, both emotional and physical

What happens if caregiver burnout is not addressed?

Caregiver burnout isn’t just inconvenient or unpleasant – it can lead to the inability to function in everyday life. In addition, it increases your risk of depression, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, the flu, strokes, and even death.

Tips to avoid caregiver burnout

Here are a few simple ways to avoid caregiver burnout, or address it if you are already feeling the effects:

  • Find trusted loved one (but not the person you’re caring for) to vent to and work through your feelings. This could even be a professional counselor.
  • Be realistic about what you and your aging loved one can accomplish. As the caregiver, you are only human, and can only do so much in a day, a week, et cetera. Your loved one, on the other hand, can only do so much for themselves within the confines of their condition.
  • Try to set aside some time for yourself each day, no matter how little.
  • Consider respite care. Respite care lets your senior stay temporarily at a nursing home or assisted living facility while you recharge your batteries. You can also have someone come to your home to provide respite care.

Read this article for a more complete overview on avoiding burnout.

There is a solution to caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout is not only hard on you — your loved one may also suffer when you inevitably succumb. Remember the airline rule of putting on your own gas mask first in the event of an emergency? The same rule applies here. You have to take care of your own needs before you can help anyone else. After all, if something happens to you, who will help your family member?
You’ll be happy to know there is a solution to caregiver burnout beyond the tips presented here. Often, the quickest and easiest way to prevent burnout is to get some real, day-to-day help. A home health aide from a good agency can take a great deal of the burden off of you. You’ll have more time for yourself, more time for your loved one, and perhaps a better quality of life overall. Don’t put off getting the support you need – look into it today. After all, a caregiver is a special kind of person, so you deserve it!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.

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