While caring for a mature adult may come naturally to some, it can still take a toll and may eventually lead to caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that can be accompanied by a change in attitude -- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout usually occurs when caregivers don't get the help they need, or when they attempt to do more than they are able -- either emotionally, physically or financially. Caregivers who are "burned out" may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones. Here are some signs of caregiver burnout:

  • Being on the verge of tears or crying a lot
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Overreacting to minor nuisances
  • Feeling constantly exhausted
  • Losing interest in work
  • Withdrawing from social contacts
  • Increasing use of alcohol or stimulants
  • Decrease in productivity at work
  • Nervous habits such as chain smoking
  • Change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
  • Use of medications for sleeplessness, anxiety, depression
  • Inability to relax
  • Scattered thinking
  • Frequently being short-tempered
  • Feeling increasingly resentful

If you are already suffering from caregiver stress and/or related depression, seek medical attention. Stress and depression are treatable disorders. If you want to prevent burnout, WebMD suggests turning to the following resources for help with your caregiving:

  • Aging Agencies -- Local Area Agencies on Aging and your local AARP chapters provide services available in your area such as adult day care services, caregiver support groups, and respite care.
  • Home Health Services -- Organizations providing home health aides and nurses for short-term care if your loved one is acutely ill.
  • Adult Day Care -- Programs serving as a place for seniors to socialize, engage in a variety of activities and, in some cases, receive needed medical care and other services.
  • Private Case Managers -- These are professionals who specialize in assessing current needs and coordinating care and services.
  • Nursing Homes or Assisted Living Facilities -- Establishments routinely offering short-term respite stays to provide caregivers a break from their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Caregiver Support Services – Organizations offering support groups and other programs that can help caregivers recharge their batteries, meet others coping with similar issues, find more information and locate additional resources.
  • National Organizations -- Local agencies or chapters of national organizations dedicated to specific disease states and assisting people with resources related to these illnesses.

Perhaps, the most effective means of preventing caregiver burnout is by taking care of the caregiver. Below are a few tips to help prevent caregiver burnout:

  • Establish priorities
  • Reach out to others for support
  • Maintain your friendships
  • Take time to exercise
  • Share the caregiving role with family and friends
  • Keep your medical appointments
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Talk to a professional
  • Take a break from caregiving – respite time is crucial
  • Stay involved in hobbies
  • Be proactive and plan ahead

Sources:

Family Caregiver Alliance
National Family Caregivers Association
Web MD
U.S. Census

ALEXIS ABRAMSON, Ph.D. is cited as America’s leading, impassioned champion for the dignity and independence of those over 50. Doctor Alexis is the author of two highly acclaimed books -- The Caregivers Survival Handbook and Home Safety for Seniors. For more information go to www.doctoralexis.com.

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