Modern medical technology enables people to live longer than ever, but society has yet to find a fair and efficient solution for providing the day to day care for the growing senior population. Nursing home care is often too expensive, and many families prefer to care for their loved ones at home. However, the daily grind of providing this care, particularly to seniors with conditions like Alzheimer’s, can push loving family members to exhaustion.
Life doesn’t stop just because you’re providing care for a loved one. Work and school demands remain the same, and many elder caregivers are in the “sandwich generation,” meaning that they provide care for both their parents and their children.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, about a third of the U.S. population provides care for a sick or elderly family member or friend at some point during the year. Seven in ten caregivers are assisting an elderly relative or friend. These caregivers spend an average of 20 hours a week providing this care. About 13 percent of caregivers provide 40 hours or more of care to their loved ones.
When you consider the burden of providing 20 to 40 hours of errand-running, meal preparation, home maintenance, and daily living assistance in addition to the average adult’s 40-hour work week and the demands of caring for their own homes and children, it’s easy to see how elder caregivers can experience feelings of severe stress and exhaustion.
On top of all that, caring for an aged parent or loved one can be a major financial burden to caregivers, as the average family caregiver of an adult aged 50 or older spends more than $5,500 per year out of pocket on expenses related to caregiving. These expenses eat away at the finances of many families, particularly those with modest incomes.
Recognizing the Signs
Many caregivers are reluctant to admit having feelings of burnout, as they feel guilty about feeling overwhelmed or burdened by providing care for a loved one. Recognizing and coping with caregiver burnout is important, however, as, left untreated, it can result in negative health and financial consequences for caregivers.
Burned out caregivers also aren’t as able as less-stressed caregivers to provide good care to their loved ones, and, sometimes, the problem is so severe that even loving, well-intentioned caregivers provide slipshod care because they are so overwhelmed.
Here are a few common signs of caregiver burnout:
- Withdrawal from friends and family – Elder caregivers who feel overburdened by the demands of providing care for an elderly parent or loved one may feel they have no energy left for other relationships, even those with their spouses and children. They may become withdrawn and nonchalant concerning these relationships, causing them to suffer.
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities – Caregivers experiencing burnout may feel that they do not have the time or energy to invest in the activities they love. They may stop going on annual vacations or participating in social groups they once frequented.
- Irritability and depression – The financial and time demands of providing care for an elderly relative or loved one may feel completely overwhelming to the caregiver. As many as 70 percent of caregivers report symptoms of depression, according to Caring.com. Caregivers may believe that their help is inadequate and experience feelings of guilt and hopelessness. These feelings may snowball into depression and anger.
- Sleeping problems – The physical and emotional demands of providing care for elderly relatives or loved ones can affect caregivers’ sleep patterns. Physical exhaustion can cause caregivers to sleep more, while emotional upsets caused by the stresses of providing care may keep other caregivers up all night. Changes in sleep patterns may contribute to depression and irritability and may also contribute to physical health problems.
- Frequent sickness – The stresses of handling their daily routines and providing care for seniors may exhaust caregivers and result in weakened immune systems. Caregivers are much more likely than the general public to suffer from a chronic illness and to rate their own health as fair or poor. Stressed out caregivers may fall victim to frequent colds and other illnesses. They may also experience elevated risk of hypertension and diabetes as the demands of care take away from time they spend on exercise and self-care.
- Weight gain – Many caregivers cope with the stress caused by their duties by overindulging in food, causing weight gain. As weight gain is associated with elevated health risks and depression, overeating is something caregivers need to be on guard against.
- Resentment – Caregivers at the breaking point may experience feelings of resentment toward the person they are caring for. Every caregiver feels frustration and irritation at some point, but caregiver burnout at its worst may result in negligent care or conscious or subconscious desires to harm the person they are caring for. Many caregivers feel guilty and ashamed for having these feelings, and this may contribute to depression.
- Alcohol and substance abuse – Overwhelmed by the demands of providing care, many home caregivers try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Drinking alcohol or abusing drugs may provide a temporary respite from the negative feelings caregivers are experiencing, but this solution often exacerbates problems and creates new ones in the long run.
Dealing with Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout can have some very serious consequences for caregivers and their charges alike. To prevent caregiver burnout, and to help caregivers experiencing severe stress, these tips can help.
- Talk about it – Caregivers can better process the emotions they’re experiencing by talking about them with others. Talking with friends and co-workers can help, and there are many online support groups for caregivers. Online support groups are great for caregivers, as the online format accommodates busy schedules and provides access to a friendly ear 24/7.
- Make time for yourself – Adjust your schedule to find an hour here and there for exercise and socialization. The truth is that if your burnout progresses, you’ll be of no help to your senior. By taking the time to take care of yourself, you can improve your senior’s quality of life.
- Reach out to social services – Government organizations, non-profits, and churches can be an invaluable resource to elder caregivers. Some may provide support for home health care services or volunteers who can help shoulder some of the burden for you. Local seniors’ centers are a great starting point to find what services may be available to you and your senior.
- Don’t ignore your feelings – Don’t bottle up feelings of helplessness and resentment. It will only make the situation worse. Confront and process these feelings. A counselor or therapist can help, and social services can help direct you to affordable options.
- Study – The more educated you are about providing care for an aged parent or loved one, the better you will be able to provide that care. Check out blogs on elder care and find other resources to study best practices. You’ll find helpful hints and tips and ways to achieve a healthier balance between your life and the demands of caregiving.
For families struggling with the demands of providing the care their parents or grandparents need, Home Care Assistance San Antonio can help. Professional caregivers from the company can provide the support families need to ease the burden of caring for their elderly loved ones.
Services provided include non-medical care as well as companionship, and caregivers are trained to provide specialty care for men and women with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and other age-related physical and mental conditions.
With flexible hourly and live-in options, Home Care Assistance San Antonio can tailor its services to meet your family’s specific caregiving needs.