Caregiver Burnout – Signs You May Be Missing

Linda Maureen Raye was a woman who had been struggling to make ends meet and was homeless. Her mother, Yolanda Lorretta Farrell, had been living in a nursing home as she was unable to feed or clothe herself. Linda convinced Yolanda and the home that she could take on the sole responsibility of caring for her mother.

Soon, she bought a one-bedroom apartment with her mother’s Social Security funds and two years later she was collecting money via her state’s in-home care program. Yet in under three years, Yolanda’s health had deteriorated and she eventually died from septic shock resulting from bed sores. Linda had been taught how to prevent bed sores yet she did not seem the least bit concerned about preventing them. In fact, during the time she was caring for her mother, she only took her to the doctor once and generally refused to cooperate with the nurse sent to assist her in Yolanda’s care.*

It is heart-breaking to think of Yolanda’s last few years and try and reconcile the fact that one of the people who was supposed to love and care for her the most didn’t seem to be bothered to do so. What happened?

Now in this story, the caregiving applied to an elderly person, but I want to expand the caregiving role to include those who take care of all kinds of individuals that require extra care (children, people with disabilities or mental health needs, patients, chronically ill family members, etc.). This issue is particularly relevant for women because the helping profession sector is mostly composed of women. Also, most societies expect women to be responsible the day-to-day care of children, the elderly, and sick family members.

If you are a caregiver, you are at risk of developing burnout, which is physical and emotional stress that leads to feeling overwhelmed and/or detached.

Everyone is different so you’ll have to assess yourself, but here are some general signs that Caregiver Services, Inc. suggests indicate that you have reached the burnout point:

  • Anxiety/Stress – lack of or changes in sleep, weight, appetite, etc.
  • Exhaustion – either emotional or physical, which can manifest in a weaker immune system.
  • Changes in Mood/Behaviour – irritability, hopelessness, feelings of loss of control
  • Withdrawal – loss of interest and withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities and friends or loved ones
  • Depression – feelings of guilt due to your perceived inability to meet your caregiving responsibilities

The saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ applies to burnout as well. This is especially true when individuals’ safety, or even lives, are at stake. If you feel you are on the road to burnout, try to spend some time doing things that make you feel relaxed or energized, depending on your needs at the time. Such activities could include arts and crafts, swimming, reading, jogging, playing with a pet, a massage, a vacation, etc.

Maintaining physical health must remain a priority as well. You might also check your area for support groups that will make you feel less isolated and help find constructive ways of dealing with the stress that comes with the role.

Most importantly, be realistic about your human nature. You cannot do everything alone. Reach out to loved ones who can be a listening ear and who can help out with the caregiving responsibilities.

Caregiving can be overwhelming, lonely, and frustrating. It can sometimes be underappreciated. Try to remember that what you are doing is necessary, important, and honourable. And don’t be ashamed of asking for a helping hand.

* This story was adapted from the “As Caregiving Shifts To The Home, Scrutiny Is Lacking” article on Kaiser Health News published on Jan. 5, 2015 by Anna Gorman.

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