Family members often become primary caregivers for their aging loved ones. Sometimes a spouse is taking care of their partner, or an adult is taking care of their aging parent. Acting as one’s caregiver can include a variety of responsibilities including household tasks, running errands, personal care, medication management and emotional support. While it can be a laborious job, over 88% of adults who care for their parent say it’s also very rewarding (Pew Research).
Adults ages 45-64 are most likely to be caregivers and over 60% of caregivers are working outside of the home in part-time or full-time jobs. Often, the person taking on the role as primary caregiver is maintaining a job, managing a home and taking care of their own children as well. “Caregiver burnout is something to look out for. A caregiver will neglect their own physical, emotional and spiritual health, as they put their time and energy into care for their loved one” says Chaplain Deborah Greatrix-Tyler. Tyler oversees spiritual care for Elderwood’s skilled nursing and assisted living communities across the Northeast.
How to spot burnout
Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Here are some signs that you or someone you know may be experiencing burnout from caregiving:
- Becoming ill more often
- Loss of interest in their favorite activities
- Changes in appetite, weight loss or gain
- Seeming more withdrawn or distant
- Struggling to sleep, or sleeping too much
- Overly irritable or feeling hopeless and sad
Getting support as a caregiver
If you or someone you know seems to be physically or mentally struggling with the day-to-day challenges of caregiving, it’s important to seek help. Up to 40% of caregivers are affected by depression and many can also experience compassion fatigue which is considered a secondary post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Caregivers tend to feel guilty for taking any time for themselves, but it’s so important for them to nurture their own self to recharge,” says Tyler. “For some people, this can mean social outings like lunch with friends, for others it can be going to a mass or religious service. We also remind caregivers that physical activity, even just a walk, can be a wonderful way to work through stress and release endorphins.”
If you are a caregiver seeking support, here are a few places to start.
- Connect with close family and friends. While it can be easy to become isolated, it’s important to keep your support network close, especially as times become challenging.
- Contact a counselor or religious leader who is trained to help you cope with the stress and emotions that may come with caring for an elderly or ill loved one.
- Research your nearby respite care options. Many skilled nursing facilities offer medically supervised care for short stays which can provide caregivers time to take a break and attend to their own health and personal needs.
- For those with a family member living in an assisted living or skilled nursing community, ask if they offer additional support or counseling through a Chaplain or social worker.
In addition to getting support from friends, family or professional counselors, there are several organizations that offer online resources and virtual or in-person support groups. Some caregiver support groups are designed for specific disease states or conditions which helps to bring people together who may be experiencing similar challenges or facing similar concerns with their loved ones.
Caregiver Action Network
Family Caregiver Alliance
NAMI – National Alliance on Mental Illness
Tyler adds, “As a caregiver, it’s important to maintain your own ‘cup.’ You will be giving a lot, but you can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of oneself and getting support is the best way to stay present for your loved one.”