Important tips to avoid caregiver burnout

The responsibility of being a caregiver for a loved one is admirable and gratifying.

But its demands can take their toll and lead to burnout without the right outlets and coping mechanisms.

A number of things can contribute to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion from caregiving over time:

  • Unreasonable demands or unrealistic expectations
  • Frustrations over lack of money, help, resources and/or caregiver skills
  • Less social (or alone) time and freedom

What I tell caregivers is that it's really important to take care of you so that there's some of you left to take care of someone else. To spend 24 hours a day caring for somebody can be a lot. It's hard."

Pnina Rothenberg, MS, OTR/L, occupational therapist at Levindale

Some important tips for avoiding caregiver burnout:

Look into respite care and adult day care options in your community.

Temporary relief for primary caregivers, respite care can be provided for your loved one at home or an adult day care center for an afternoon, a few days or even weeks. Particularly if you don't have another family member or someone else with whom you have a close relationship that you can call on for assistance, this can free you up to run important errands or just relax. The ARCH National Respite Locator Service, for example, can provide details about respite care resources near you.

"Sometimes religious organizations or affiliations have volunteers who may be able to come and hang out with your loved one for an hour or two," Rothenberg says.

LifeBridge Health offers adult day services.

Don't be so hard on yourself for wanting/needing a break even for the little things. You deserve it.

Everyone needs a break every now and then. Even parents reach a point where they need a little time to themselves away from the kids. "(Caregiving) is really the same thing. But for some reason, when the one you're caregiving for is older than you instead of younger than you, it has a different feel to it, which it shouldn't. It's the same thing," Rothenberg says. "You can't be with that person all day and give the same kind of energy and care and patience. It's just not possible."

Often, caregivers feel guilty about taking a breather from their responsibilities. But look at your personal time as a necessity and not a luxury. And it doesn't always have to be an extended break or getaway. "Even if you're just going out for a manicure or grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend … something that's going to pamper you a teeny bit and doesn't have to take hours and hours makes a big difference," Rothenberg says.

Make your health a priority.

Caregivers can become so busy tending to others that they neglect their own health. In addition to irritability, feelings of self-harm, withdrawal and other symptoms likened to depression, changes in weight and/or appetite, getting sick more often and changes in sleep patterns (which "could be coming from an internal sense of having to keep an ear out for your loved one in case he or she falls or there's some other emergency," Rothenberg says) are common symptoms of caregiver burnout.

Taking care of you, Rothenberg says, includes eating right, exercising regularly and getting good sleep. Staying on top of your own doctor's appointments (another good reason to arrange respite care) is also important.

But Rothenberg adds: "That's not to say you should focus solely on your health-related activities instead of other fun and relaxing leisure activities in your free time … They're both really important, and it's important to make both fit in."

Join a caregiver support group.

It is normal as a caregiver to feel a range of emotions, specifically resentment and guilt. Accept your feelings and don't keep them bottled up.

It's good to talk about your feelings and frustrations with someone you can trust-;a friend, co-worker, neighbor, therapist, social worker or clergy member. Better yet, joining a caregiver support group is an opportunity to connect with and share experiences with others in a similar situation who can help you cope with feelings of frustration and isolation and discover additional resources and ways of coping.

LifeBridge Health offers several support groups, including those for caregivers of dementia and brain injury patients.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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