Published on: January 16, 2017
by Kathy A. Miller for Enid News:
When one is caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia, chances are they are acutely aware of all of the details of that individual’s care.
They know what medication has been taken, and when, you know the time and date of every appointment, and can spot even minor changes in the individual’s mood or demeanor which may be a sign of physical stress or discomfort. Unfortunately, however, most caregivers are far less in tune to their own well-being. Far too often, the symptoms of caregiver burnout go unnoticed, and left unchecked, they can wreak havoc on the health of the caregiver.
Symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. Individuals may find themselves withdrawing from family and friends. They may be more irritable than usual, have an unusually short fuse, and snap at loved ones with little or no provocation. Caregivers experiencing burnout may lose interest in the activities they typically would enjoy. Sleep may be disturbed, and they may find themselves feeling physically under-the-weather, susceptible to every cold and virus that comes along.
The cause of caregiver burnout can be complex. It is more than just being tired, although physical exhaustion definitely is a risk factor. Caregivers may experience symptoms of burnout when their expectations are too high. They may feel like their impact on the life of their loved one is not as profound as they thought it would be. They may feel frustrated that they do not have the resources or the skills necessary to provide the level of care they would like to provide for their loved one, or they may simply place demands on themselves that are impossible to meet with the time and resources they have available to them.
In order to minimize the risk of burnout, caregivers must learn to make their own health and well-being a priority. Just as they see that their loved one keeps up with doctor’s appointments and maintains healthy eating habits, caregivers must keep up with their own needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Preventative procedures like mammograms and annual physicals should not be skipped or postponed, and every effort should be made to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Exercise is important, not only in terms of overall fitness, but it can be a great stress reliever, and should not be neglected.
Perhaps most importantly, caregivers should recognize their own limitations, and be aware of the potential for burnout. The ability to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed may be the most effective tool at the caregiver’s disposal. Every person responsible for the care of another should have a list of people and agencies that they can contact when the demands of providing care become too great. Whether a close friend who can provide a listening ear, a trusted clergyman, or a paid counselor who can help develop strategies to cope with mounting pressure, it is crucial to have someone who can listen and provide compassionate support. Caregiver support groups are a wonderful resource for meeting with like-minded individuals who understand the joys and the difficulties of caregiving.
By networking with other members, caregivers are able to learn from each other, draw on each other’s strengths and experiences, and build a system of caring support that can help make even the most difficult days more manageable.
It is crucial for caregivers to be able to acknowledge just how stressful and overwhelming their job can sometimes be. Even the most capable and committed caregiver has needs and limitations. Recognizing that simple fact can be the first step in avoiding the pitfalls of caregiver burnout.
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