Caring for an aging loved one with dementia is a big responsibility, especially for working professionals who also must balance careers and families. In the U.S., about 40 million people are unpaid caregivers to family and friends in need. Serving as a caregiver while still managing your own life can lead to neglecting your individual needs, which can result in emotional, physical and mental exhaustion. This state of exhaustion is known as caregiver burnout.
Caregiver burnout can cause serious health consequences such as stress, increased or decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, negative thoughts, anxiety, depression, feelings of resentment and health problems like high blood pressure.
Factors that cause caregiver burnout
Lack of support: Many caregivers believe they can (and must) do everything by themselves to decrease the burden on others. By adopting this mentality, you assume a large amount of responsibility, which in turn causes a large amount of stress.
Unrealistic expectations: When caring for a loved one, you may expect your efforts to have a positive effect on their health. This can be an unrealistic expectation for those patients who suffer from long-term, progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Lack of resources: While you may be highly educated, most family caregivers are not trained health professionals and may find it difficult to know what they are supposed to do in care-giving situations. A lack of resources and skills to adequately care for your loved one can cause frustration and stress.
Caring for many people: Not only do caregivers care for the loved one in need of assistance, but often they take on care of other family members, in addition to managing a team or running a business. Having responsibility for so many people is an enormous task that can take up most of your time, leaving you little time for yourself.
Alleviating caregiver burnout
Take care of yourself: Remember, you are no good to anyone if you are not taking care of yourself. Try to eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise. Physical activity like gardening, walking, or yoga can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.
Become an educated caregiver: Understanding the caregiver journey you are on and the different phases of dementia can help you plan. As the disease progresses, new care-giving skills may be necessary. There are many resources to help you better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany Alzheimer's.
Get respite care: Another way you can decrease caregiver burnout is by looking into respite care options for your loved one. Respite care provides you a short break away from your loved one while they receive professional care in a safe environment. Respite can be utilized when you have a medical procedure or planned hospitalization, or to arrange a short trip to visit with extended family or friends.
Join a support group: There are millions of people going through a caregiver journey very similar to what you are. Find a local group or online community to talk about any negative feelings you may be experiencing or issues you may be facing while caring for your loved ones. Not only will others validate your efforts, but they also might be able to provide suggestions and tips from their own experiences.
Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Family and friends are sometimes unaware or unsure about what to do when there is a dementia diagnosis. If you ask for something specific (assistance with meals or transportation), it will make it easier for them to help. There also are many resources available in the community to support family caregivers. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help.
Being the caregiver of a loved one with dementia is never an easy task, and at times you may feel overwhelmed, stressed or burned out. It’s important to recognize the factors that can cause caregiver burnout so you can address them. Remembering to take care of yourself is the first step in coping. Educating yourself on the disease process can help you plan for what is coming next. Look into respite or other support services, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Taking care of yourself along the caregiver journey can help you avoid the risk of burnout and continue to provide quality care for your loved one.