Mrs. X lives with her husband of 52 years in their two story home.  Mrs. X’s cognition and over-all health has been deteriorating since she fell down the stairs and broke her hip.  Since returning home, Mr. X has worked to provide his wife with constant care and love.  Their adult children live scattered across the state, yet one is within driving distance and offered to help with the caregiving responsibilities.  Mr. X feels compelled to take care of his wife on his own. Mr. X had promised to take care of Mrs. X, as her greatest fear was to spend her remaining years away from her home and her husband.  Mr. X is beginning to show signs of caregiver burnout – he is depressed, cannot sleep at night for fear he will not hear his wife, and is often too tired to eat.

The above vignette is not uncommon.  Caregivers, either family members or those hired to care for elders, feel a sense of duty coupled with loyalty. You could substitute Mr. X with the daughter, son, wife, personal care attendant, health care worker, or neighbor.  Statistics demonstrate that more than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for the loved one (National Alliance for Caregiving, 2009).  In the United States, our demographics are changing.  According to the US News and World Report, “The United Nations predicts that 1 out of every 6 people will be over the age of 65 by 2050. In the U.S., it’s expected to be more than 1 in 5. The U.S. already finds itself among the top quarter of oldest countries, and with an aging baby boomer population and advances in medicine and technology that help people live longer, the country is only getting older” (McPhillips, 2019).

What does this mean for those caring for our loved ones? Taking into consideration the data presented, one meaning easily derived falls squarely on an increased need for caregivers.  The role of caregiver falls into two categories.  Informal caregivers are typically unpaid individuals, either a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor who is involved with helping prepare meals, dressing assistance, driving, etc. Formal caregivers are paid care providers providing care in one’s home or in a day care, residential facility, long-term care facility type of setting (Family Caregiver Alliance, n.d.). However, both types of caregivers are reporting the symptoms of burnout.

Caregiving is hard, yet it is also rewarding.  Helping others to have a better quality of life is indeed a noble occupation.  However, caregiving for others can interrupt and derail our ability to take good care of ourselves.  The very same qualities that make an excellent caregiver (compassion, honesty, reliability, empathy, and sensitivity) can also increase caregiver burnout, if attention is not paid to self-care.  Good self-care means that we place importance on our own health so that we have the ability to give to others, without depleting our own energies.  Some people think or were taught that good self-care is selfish.  For caregivers it is extremely important to focus on self-care, as burnout can bring out feelings of resentment, depression, irritability, anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, apathy, and unhealthy habits (over eating, over indulging in alcohol, etc.).   Caregiver burn out is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. And when caregivers reach that point, everyone suffers.

So, what can caregivers do to help prevent caregiver burnout? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Listen to your body – it will always tell you the truth.  Your body will respond when we are out of balance.  It takes our mind a bit longer to process.  When you begin to feel out of sorts, take a few minutes to deep breathe, go within, and listen to your body.
  2. Respite care is crucial- scheduling respite caregivers is important – be they family, friends, or hired caregivers. Sometimes we feel that we should be available at all times for our loved ones, yet in all honesty, it is important for us to recharge so that we can provide the best care while not depleting our own internal resources.  It’s the same old story we hear when we board an airplane – you must put on your oxygen mask before trying to help others with their mask.
  3. Give up guilt – feeling guilty for not giving more never helps. Work to remove these words from your vocabulary, should, don’t, won’t and any other type of negative thinking or self-talk.
  4. How to accomplish #3? By replacing the negative self-talk with positive self-talk.  Such as:  I am taking good care of myself.  I balance all aspects of my life, I rest when I need to rest, or, I am doing the best that I can.
  5. Explore what will work for you. It takes time to change a habit or a behavior.  Be gentle with yourself as you learn this new skill.

As a caregiver, I found that I tended to give others more than I gave myself. It’s been a lifelong journey, but I am learning how to create equity with my love, my care, and my time.  I’ll end with a quote that I have posted on my bathroom mirror, so as to read it every time I look in the mirror –

You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.   Anonymous

To Your Success,

Holly

 

References

McDaniels, D. (2019).  Aging in America in 5 Charts. US News and World Report. Retrieved from

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2019-09-30/aging-in-america-in-5-charts

National Alliance for Caregiving. (2009). Caregiving Population.  Retrieved from

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/caregiver-statistics

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