Caregiver burn out is the phrase commonly used to refer to a person looking after a loved one at home, usually full-time. They may need to look after their loved one due to some form of physical or mental disability. In the process of looking after them, the caregiver may start to neglect themselves and then their health will start to suffer.
With over 32 million people in the role of caregiver to a child or elderly parent, sometimes both at the same time, caregiver burn out is on the rise in the United States. Fortunately, there are several ways to deal with the demands of caregiving and balance your needs with those of your loved one.
Here are some suggestions for avoiding caregiver burnout:
*Ask for assistance.
You can’t do everything alone, and no matter what you are expecting of yourself, no one expects you to be a superhero. Set priorities and ask family members, friends, and neighbors for help. Think flexibly about all that is needed in each 24 hour period, for both you and your loved one, and then plan a timetable as to how it is going to be fulfilled. Not everyone needs 24 hour care, nor intensive care. Attendance upon your loved one could be through a home health aide, day care, adult day care, or a ‘sitter’ for your loved one, no matter what their age.
*Acknowledge negative feelings; don’t ignore them.
Disturbing emotions, such as guilt and resentment, are normal. Recognizing and accepting them are the first steps towards dealing with them effectively. Share your feelings with loved ones and consider consulting a professional counselor if you start to feel overwhelmed by your emotions.
*Take regular breaks.
Continue to pursue some outside activities and social contacts no matter how busy you are as a caregiver. In the long run, maintaining such interests will help you be a better caregiver than one who is burned out and running on an empty fuel tank, drained of any energy because you have not been resting enough and getting away from the demanding role of caregiver.
*Maintain Your Own Health
Your physical health affects your mental outlook and your ability to cope with all types of daily challenges. Be sure to eat well, exercise, and get enough rest. Neglecting your own basic needs benefits no one in the end. If you burn out, what will happen to your loved one? Or you? If you get sick with flu, who will run the household? If you were to suffer from a major illness, who would look after you both? Take care of yourself every day, and do not skip your regular check ups with the doctor and dentist.
*Join a Support Group
For those who say they have no time to get away, the great thing about the Internet is that you can get support online, even if not in person. These groups create an opportunity to share feelings and offer practical suggestions about how to cope with the demands of caregiving. Some are general groups, while others can help with a variety of specific medical conditions, such as children with ADHD or adults with Alzheimer’s. Often you will get a lot of advice and ideas you never thought of before and these forums, chat rooms and groups are available around the clock no matter where you are in the world.
*Get Help From the Professionals
As with a lot of other emotionally difficult situations in life, when something bad happens to you, you may feel overwhelmed, and as if you are the only person in the world that it has ever happened to. But the truth of the matter is that it has happened to a lot of other people before, and there are professionals who can help you get through these trying times.
Spend time doing your research and finding out what free resources are available to you. Keep in close contact with doctors and other medical professionals, and visit your own doctor for regular check ups. Tell them what you are going through, and ask for advice and resources they might be familiar with.
Watch out for your health and caregiver burnout at certain times of the year, especially fall and winter. Between work, school, the holidays and cold and flu season, it is easy to get run down and become sick. Care for yourself first and you will be better able to care for others.
The average life expectancy for men is 75 years, for women, 80. As all of us live longer, the baby boom means we will have a larger percentage of older adults in American society than ever before, but with far fewer younger people to care for them.
At the same time, people are often leaving having a child until much later in life, or even starting a second family later in life (John Travolta’s wife Kelly Preston had another baby through a seemingly healthy natural pregnancy at the age of 49!).
The truth is that people can become disabled at any age, especially through accident or illness, let alone through the natural processes of aging. Caring for the caregiver needs to be focused on now, and put at the forefront of our social agenda as our population ages, so that no one ends up ‘falling through the cracks’, either those requiring care, or the caregiver.