Caregiving an Elderly Parent? What to do When You Feel Burned out!

FREE Caregiver Burnout Self-Assessment Worksheet

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Caregiver burnout is typically defined as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. It is a physical and/or emotional collapse brought on by chronic stress. Burnout typically occurs when caregivers don’t get the help they need or when they attempt to do more than they are capable of.

Basically, caregiver burnout occurs when caregivers are unable to practice self care!

Caring for an elderly parent or loved one, at home, begins with the best intentions. Over time what starts out as a beautiful experience can disintegrate in to caregiver burnout and put a care recipient at risk.

The higher the burden of care, the longer the duration, performing medical tasks and perceived lack of choice, in deciding to be a caregiver are all factors that increase your risk of burnout. Upwards of 63% of caregivers report moderate to high emotional stress.  (source: Caregiving in the U.S.A. 2015)

Burnout is one of those road blocs in caregiving that all families and communities should  keep an eye open for. Often times, the caregiver is unaware and the care recipient is at risk. People suffer in silence and this hurts us all.

What causes burnout?

Everyone has a different tolerance for stress and there are many variables that can contribute to caregiver burnout. Caregivers are often so busy taking care of others they neglect their own emotional, physical and spiritual needs. But not all caregivers suffer from burnout and it can be avoided and treated.

Factors that can lead to caregiver burnout…

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Shear exhaustion and lack of sleep
  • Judgement and societal pressures
  • Demanding and/or toxic elders
  • Negative comments and criticism from family, care recipient and friends
  • Lack of privacy and personal space
  • Ignoring your feelings
  • Ignoring your basic needs: exercise, healthy food, grooming and sleep
  • Not accepting help
  • Chronic pain
  • Financial pressures
  • Juggling work and caregiving duties

How to know if you’re burned out!

During the past week or so, have you…

  1. Had trouble concentrating or keeping focused? YES or NO
  2. Felt that you couldn’t leave your loved one alone? YES or NO
  3. Had difficulty making decisions? YES or NO
  4. Felt completely overwhelmed? YES or NO
  5. Felt like nothing you do is right? YES or NO
  6. Felt lonely and isolated? YES or NO
  7. Felt a loss of personal space or privacy? YES or NO
  8. Been edgy or irritable? YES or NO
  9. Had difficulty sleeping? YES or NO
  10. Felt like you’re missing out on life? YES or NO
  11. Felt like your relationships have suffered? YES or NO
  12. Felt resentful about your caregiving duties? YES or NO
  13. Felt ashamed of your life or loved one? YES or NO
  14. Had a crying spell? YES or NO

If you answered yes to feeling completely overwhelmed (#3)  or yes to having crying spells (#14) OR the total yes score is 4 or above, you may be experiencing a high degree of distress and are at risk of possible burnout.

Get your Caregiver self-assessment worksheet here!

What to do if you’re suffering from caregiver burnout!

Burnout doesn’t occur overnight and neither does recovering from it. If you’ve become a victim of caregiver burnout, here are a few steps you can take to get back on track.

  1. Make an appointment with your physician. When was the last time you had a physical? Explain to them what you’re experiencing and advocate for yourself. Download your self-assessment and use it to guide your conversation with your doctor.
  2. Consider a support group. There’s nothing more powerful than getting support from your peers. Your local hospital, area council on aging or Alzheimer’s Association can help you locate one. You may also want to consider an online group.
  3. Focus on the things you can control. You can’t wish your mother’s Alzheimer’s away or force her to eat all of her meals. Rather than stressing out over the “what ifs” focus on what you can do even if it’s just a load of laundry. Better yet, walk around the block!
  4. If possible, get some relief. Reach out and say “I need a break”.  Family member, formal caregivers, day programs or a respite stay at a care community. Don’t wait for someone else to make this happen. Get creative, schedule it and make it happen.
  5. Put time in to taking care of yourself. Exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, maintain a healthy diet and get enough sleep. I know it’s cliché (I can see the eye rolls) but you can’t take care of someone unless you take care of yourself first. Article: Simple Ideas for Caregiver Self-Care!
  6. Consider that it may be time for a transition. This may be the time to explore an appropriate care community setting for your loved one. I know this is the last thing many of you want to hear but, the truth is, it may be what’s best for your care recipient. Give ourself permission!
  7. Say no to all non-essential appointments. I’m always amazed at how many appointments my elderly clients have. Urologists, neurologists, primary care physicians, dentists, hair appointments, eye appointments. If an appointment is non-essential, re-schedule it or better yet cancel it all together. It’s time to simplify!

Acknowledging that caregiving is filled with stress and anxiety frees you to be honest about what you’re feeling and experiencing. You and only you can monitor and cultivate self-awareness that will keep your stress in check and burnout at bay.

No one and, I mean no one, can work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days out of the year without experiencing some degree of caregiver burnout. You’re not a failure and you haven’t made a mistake. Set your guilt, resentment and frustrations on the shelf and get some help!

How about you? Are you a caregiver struggling with burnout? What advice would you like to leave for other caregivers? Reach out by leaving a comment below!

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My Elder Care Consultant

LuAnn Smith is a geriatric care manager, blogger, public speaker and consultant. She provides an array of services designed to assist aging families and the organizations that care for them. She provides services and information to empower both individuals and businesses to be the best they can be for the older adults in their care.