Caregiver burnout is common among those who care for others, whether they are volunteer family members or paid professionals. If you’ve been caring for an elderly family member — especially if you have been doing it alone — you very well might be suffering from caregiver burnout. Read on to discover eight ways to identify and prevent caregiver burnout while taking care of an aging loved one:
Know the signs of caregiver burnout.
You can’t prevent or treat caregiver burnout if you don’t know what it looks like. Common signs of caregiver burnout include fatigue and exhaustion, feelings of apathy and/or hopelessness about your loved one’s well-being, depressive and/or anxious symptoms, loneliness and social isolation, and feeling incompetence as a caregiver. The chronic stress of caregiving can also manifest in physical symptoms, including headaches, stomachaches and digestive problems, trouble sleeping, joint inflammation and other ailments with no discernible cause. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, then it’s very likely you are burned out.
Ask for help from others.
Caring for someone else is basically a full-time job. In fact, it often takes at least two people to care for a relative, especially if they need around-the-clock care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, whether that is your spouse, siblings or another family member. Even if they can’t handle caregiving activities, you can still delegate your other tasks to them, such as grocery shopping, cleaning the house, cooking meals and washing a load of adult bibs. You don’t have to do everything yourself — in fact, it’s impossible for one person to care for an aging loved one while simultaneously running a household — so ask for specific help and delegate tasks as necessary.
Consider hiring outside help.
If you can afford it, you might find it beneficial to hire outside help. This can take many forms, from meal delivery to maid services to a professional caregiver, depending on what your household needs the most. In some cases, Medicaid may actually cover some or all of these costs, depending on your situation and the state where you live. If your loved one has private health insurance, that might also cover some services. If you’re not sure if you can afford outside help or not, definitely dig into the fine print of their insurance policy to see what it covers. The insurance might also cover some medical and adaptive devices that could make caring for them easier, such as adaptive clothing for men and adaptive clothing for women.
Discuss family finances.
Speaking of money, you should have a conversation with your family members about the financial aspect of taking care of an elderly family member. For instance, you need to know if the family has retirement savings and, if so, how much money and how far it will stretch. If they don’t have money that can be put towards their care, then your family might need to create a “parent and grandparent” fund that all the adult siblings pay into to help cover the cost of their care. Make sure that your loved one has a legal, up-to-date will spelling out how their assets should be divided when they pass.
Take care of your own health.
One of the biggest ironies of caregiving is that caregivers often neglect their own health in order to take care of their loved ones. The chronic stress of caregiving can also cause physical ailments to worsen, exacerbating health issues. Be sure to stay on top of your own medications and carve out time to attend any medical appointments. Also, try to eat a balanced diet and exercise a few days a week, which will boost both your mental and physical health overall.
Fight social withdrawal.
When you are physically and emotionally exhausted from caregiving, you probably feel like you have nothing extra left to give to your other relationships. This often leads people to withdraw from the other people in their lives, leading to social isolation. While this instinct is understandable, isolating yourself from other people will contribute to feelings of burnout even more. Keeping social connections with others will boost your mood and remind you that you have a life outside of your role as a caregiver. Say yes to being social when you can, even if it’s just lying on a couch next to your best friend and watching TV together.
Join a support group.
No one knows what you are going through like other family caregivers do. Friends and family are still a great source of support, but if they don’t have caregiving experience, they may not understand the complexities of the stress that you are under. See if there is a caregiver support group in your area, or connect with one online if there isn’t one local to you. Fellow caregivers will be able to commiserate with you as well as offer tips for taking care of your loved ones.
Try out therapy.
Talk therapy can really help you process your own emotions around caregiving for a relative. Therapy provides a safe space for you to air your frustrations that you may have to keep quiet at home. If your loved one’s diagnosis is terminal, a therapist who specializes in grief counseling can also help you prepare for their passing and help you navigate your life after they pass. Seeing a psychiatrist for antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication can also help alleviate your symptoms and boost your mental health.
Caring for an ageing loved one is not easy, and caregiver burnout further takes a toll on you. Watch out for the signs of caregiver burnout and try to implement some of the other preventative tips to guard your own well-being while you take care of others.