February 24, 2018
By Rachel Livingston, BSN, RN, William Newton Home Health Director
Imagine this: A woman who was once a fully functional member of society is now becoming more forgetful, unable to drive herself due to increasing weakness, and needing help remembering to take medications and eat three meals a day.
Then you come in. Who are you? You could be a spouse, child, grandchild, neighbor, friend… but you are now wearing the hat of a caregiver; helping your loved one continue to function day to day. What started out as helping every now and then, driving to appointments or bringing dinner on an occasional evening, has now turned into a daily responsibility.
Becoming a caregiver can be very rewarding, but it also comes with a multitude of stressors. Caregiving can range from a short time helping someone through a brief illness to a long-term challenge caring for a person with a slowly progressing disease process. Either way, caregiver stress and burnout is a real possibility and issue that needs to be monitored and addressed if it becomes a reality.
What causes caregiver burnout?
- Self-neglect: Caregivers often put all their time and efforts into being a caregiver and begin to neglect their own emotional, physical, and spiritual health.
- Role confusion: It is difficult for a person to be able to differentiate between their role as a caregiver from their role as a spouse, child, friend etc.
- Unmet expectations: Many caregivers believe they can handle every aspect of being a caregiver and prevent anything bad from happening to who they are caring for. This is unrealistic for patients suffering from a progressive disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Are you at risk for caregiver burnout? Here are symptoms you might experience:
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Getting sick more often
- Feeling irritable, hopeless, and helpless
- Feelings of wanting to harm yourself or the person you are caring for
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
How can you prevent caregiver burnout?
- Share your feelings with a trusted friend, neighbor, or co-worker.
- Set aside time for yourself. This is extremely important so you can stay fresh and remain an effective caregiver. Be sure to eat healthy and exercise regularly.
- Educate yourself on the disease your loved one is dealing with and be realistic about the possible prognosis.
- Accept that you might need assistance with caregiving and know your limits.
- Take advantage of respite care services offered in your area. This could range from a few hours of someone coming to the home to a short stay at a nursing home. Say “Yes” when someone offers to help.
- Be gentle on yourself. It is ok to have a variety of feelings (such as anger or frustration) related to your caregiver role. This does not make you a bad person or bad caregiver.
Where can you go for help with caregiver burnout?
- Private care aides: Hire professionals to come and help you in your home with your loved one on a scheduled basis
- Area Agency on Aging: Your local agency may be able to help you locate services you would qualify for, for further assistance such as adult day care programs, support groups, and respite care.
- Caregiver support: Groups and programs can help you meet others coping with similar issues, find more information, and locate additional resources. These could be in-person or on-line groups.
- Home health services: If your loved one is acutely ill, you could receive services from an agency that would provide a nurse, physical therapist, and home health aide to assist with short-term care. Contact William Newton Home Health for further information at 620-221-2916.
Above all, to be your best for someone else, you have to take care of yourself. Knowing the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout and ways to remedy the situation are your first steps to being the best caregiver you can be for your loved one.
The "Weekend Check-Up" is a regular health column published in the Cowley Courier Traveler penned by employees and friends of William Newton Hospital.