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What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Female caregiver crying and experiencing caregiver burnout.

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from long-term stress and may be accompanied by a negative change in attitude and/or a loss of interest or motivation to care for a loved one.

Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, and can affect caregivers’ emotional and physical health including symptoms such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.

Caregiving Challenges and Self-Care

If you are the caregiver for an aging family member, you may sometimes feel utterly alone and overwhelmed.  

On some days you may wonder what happened to your own life, your own health, and how you can continue to balance work and caregiving, let alone enjoy any social life or other activities. 

You may see no end to the exhaustion and stress that caring for an elderly loved one can cause, however much you love them and want the best for them.  

Many caregivers take on this role with little to no previous experience, and there are not always readily available support systems to help them.

You Are Not Alone   

There are over 40 MILLION UNPAID CAREGIVERS in America.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found recently that over 40.4 million American adults were unpaid caregivers of adults ages 65 or older, and this number grows every year.  

  • 9 out of 10 unpaid caregivers are caring for an aging relative.
  • 44% of caregivers are caring for a parent.
  • 15% of caregivers provide help to an older adult for 10 years or more.
  • About 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer's disease or other dementia.
  • Upwards of 75% of all caregivers are female, and may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males.

The Fallout

Emotional And Physical Stress Can Lead To Caregiver Burnout 

Your Health: Under these circumstances, then, it is easy to imagine the devastating effects that can arise, most often manifesting in both emotional and physical stress and poor health.  

Your Relationship: Sometimes caring for an aging and seriously ill loved one is not only physically and emotionally exhausting, but their relationship and communication with you can be irrevocably changed by this very illness.  Do you remember when you didn’t talk with them about remembering to take medication or what the next steps in treatment might be, or how to handle their financial and legal issues, back when life seemed free of these approaching clouds?  

Caregiver Burnout: In extreme cases, caregiver burnout and mental health issues like depression and anxiety can develop, along with emotions such as anger, guilt, resentment, and compassion burnout.  Caregivers experiencing burnout often withdraw from friends and family, adopt abnormal eating and sleeping patterns, and catch more illnesses due to a compromised immune function. In extreme cases, their ability to care about the wellbeing of themselves or the recipient of their caregiving is reduced.

Caregiver taking time for a walk outside in the morning sun.

Self-care Is Vital

Even health care professionals need to be vigilant about self-care.  If you are caring for a loved one, the emotional burden is usually greater still, and the need for self-care more urgent. 

Strategies for Self Care

  • Don’t be reluctant to ask for help from other family members or family friends
  • Find support groups, either in your community or online forums, where you can share your feelings and learn about resources
  • Keep your own doctor’s appointments 
  • Make it imperative that you schedule some personal, uninterrupted time for your own hobbies or relaxation activities.
  • Bolster your loved one’s care plan with community resources or professional help – home care, adult day care, social workers, interdisciplinary team support provided to families of hospice and palliative care patients.
  • Enhance your quality of life and long-term health by practicing relaxation therapies such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, walking in nature, sound therapy.
  • Find an outlet for expression, such as music, art, journaling.
  • Take advantage of Medicare’s Respite Care coverage (see below).

Respite Care

The Medicare Hospice Benefit covers up to five days of Respite Care for family members of hospice patients who are in need of a break from care-giving.

Writing on pavement in chalk that says, "You Got This".

[The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines eldercare providers (here referred to as caregivers) as anyone of age 15 and older who has provided unpaid care to any adult age 65 and older in the last 3-4 months because of a condition related to aging. ] 

Sources:   [https://www.agingcare.com/articles/signs-of-caregiver-burnout]; [https://www.caregiver.org/caregiver-statistics-demographics]; [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]; [Institute on Aging. (2016). Read How IOA Views Aging in America 

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