Avoid Caregiver Burnout

If you are a caregiver, do not feel alone. In the United States in any single year, there are about 44 million Americans who give unpaid help to a loved one 18 years or older.

A caregiver is anyone who gives regular help to someone in need. “Informal caregivers” are those who are not paid for all they do. The most common caregiver relationship involves an adult child caring for an aging parent or relative. Other examples include someone caring for an ill or aging spouse, parents caring for a disabled adult child, or an adult caring for a neighbor or friend.

Caregivers contribute tasks that can be draining, especially those activities of daily living which are often physically hard to do. These include helping the loved one bathe, toilet, get dressed, and eat (also called activities of daily living or ADLs). Giving care becomes more challenging if a loved one has a disease such as dementia. The senior may be moody, wander away from home, or create dangerous situations such as leaving the stove on, or forgetting to turn the faucet off.

Every situation has its different hardships, some tougher than others. Some caregivers find that they cannot leave their loved one alone, or that they have so many responsibilities to their other family members that they must cut back working hours or stop working. If there is no other household income, this can become financially devastating.

In 2009, AARP, Inc. (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), together with the National Alliance of Caregiving conducted a study. They surveyed 1400 caregivers. Nearly half (44%) said they felt they had “a lack of choice in taking on the caregiving role.” In other words, they felt stuck or hopeless in an obligation. This “trapped” group also said they had higher levels of stress on their minds and bodies than the caregivers who felt that they were providing care out of choice.

So, how do you avoid feeling completely exhausted – burning out?

Give care for positive reasons. See yourself as giving care because you choose to. You are returning love to a loving parent, or giving your disabled child the attention she deserves. This puts you in control. It helps you avoid feeling as if life dealt you a bad hand.

Take care of yourself. Make time for friends and fun. (Even though it might be easier to have friends come to you, go out at least once a week). Exercise or walk a half hour daily. Avoid junk and eat nutritious meals. Get the sleep you need. Find a hobby you love – even if it’s reading a book. These rules of caregiving sound trite, but they will lift your energy and your spirits. Do NOT feel guilty for taking care of your own mind, body and soul. You will be a better caregiver if you love yourself first.

Create a routine. Having a predictable schedule helps you, your loved one and family members. Remember to schedule time for yourself –at least an hour a day.

Delegate! The kids, siblings or friends can help you with chores. Or you can hire a home health aide to help with ADLs. You can barter with friends. For instance, you babysit a friend’s kids one afternoon. In exchange, your friend watches your loved one for a few hours.

Ask siblings to contribute their fair share if you care for a parent. Do not be shy about requesting that they contribute both time and money.

Reach out to local organizations for help. Groups like your local Area Agency on Aging (AAoA) can help you locate many resources, including those that may help you manage finances, find an in-home aide, or connect you with other caregivers who can provide advice, support and connection. You can find your local chapter by going to the national web site, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging at http://www.n4a.org/(See the article on the Horizon NJ Health page for Caregivers called, “New Jersey Organizations to Turn To”)

Look for respite care, which involves asking someone you trust to care for your loved one while you take a day off. You might switch off days with another caregiver you know. OR you can take your senior loved one to an adult day care center which provides her with social attention, meals, and activities.

Spend enjoyable time with your loved one. If the relationship with your loved one is centered only around things you “have-to-do,” you may both become frustrated or resentful. Find something that is enjoyable for both of you. If your loved one is only mildly limited, there are many things you can probably do together, like walking, shopping, or visiting friends. If your loved one has severe limitations, you can still find activities to share. Your doctor may provide direction. Some hospitals offer caregiver training for demanding conditions.

If your loved one is a member of the MLTSS program and has made you his or her Personal Representative, ask the Horizon NJ Health care manager for help. She can offer advice or possibly arrange for services that will assist your loved one, and help you avoid burnout.