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Caregiver Burnout: How to Extend Support to Those Who Care for Others

wheelchair user and caregiver in sunlit field

My once able-bodied grandfather was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The decline was sharp and sudden. His bodily functions and memory are gradually failing. But this story isn’t about my grandfather and the cruel reality of those afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. Rather, it’s about the daily stresses my father has to deal with as his primary caregiver.

Caregiving has taken a huge toll on my father. Firstly, with numerous ailments, my grandfather requires intensive, round-the-clock care. Consequently, my father has to wake up at odd hours during the night to check on him, severely impacting the quality of his sleep. Secondly, caring for an elderly person with Parkinson’s meant that my grandfather was steadily declining with each passing day. My father felt heartbroken that despite his best efforts to care for him, my grandfather’s condition was getting worse. Lastly, it was difficult dealing with the temperament of my grandfather. He would have emotional outbursts that required loads of patience.

As a son, I was much saddened witnessing my father work tirelessly to care for my grandfather. My father made huge sacrifices. He quit his job, hardly goes out of the house, and barely meets his friends.  Determined to alleviate the burden on my father, I did extensive research on the topic of caregiver burnout to see how I could help.

Caregiver burnout is a serious issue worldwide

Caregivers face significant stress when caring for a loved one, leading to a decline in their health. A study done by Family Caregiver Alliance found that 1 in 3 caregivers are struggling with poor health themselves. It is estimated that 40%-70% of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression, with about a quarter to a half of them fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

You might not be a caregiver yourself, but chances are you know someone who is. It is essential that everyone understands the signs of caregiver burnout and how to extend help to people who experience it. Caregivers are human, too, and also require support.

What causes caregiver burnout

Caregiver burnout occurs when caregivers place so much importance on caring for their loved ones that they neglect their own well-being in the process.

Having unrealistic hopes for the sick person can place additional stress on the caregiver. Some caregivers believe that with time, the condition of their loved ones would gradually improve. However, this may not be possible for individuals with progressive conditions such as dementia or Parkinson’s.

Lack of family support is another factor that contributes to caregiver burnout. Sole caregivers may not have additional support for them to take regular breaks from caregiving. It also does not help if the families place unrealistic expectations on caregivers, adding to their stress.

Lastly, many caregivers have to juggle numerous commitments and responsibilities in addition to caregiving. If they are employed, they may not be able to take care of their loved ones. Other caregivers also have children who need their care and attention. These responsibilities might be too much for them to bear.

Signs a person is experiencing caregiver burnout

According to the Cleveland Clinic, these are the symptoms of caregiver burnout:

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and other loved ones.
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable.
  • Feeling blue, hopeless, or helpless.
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or both.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Falling sick more frequently.
  • Feelings of wanting to harm yourself or the person for whom you are caring.
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion.
  • Irritability.

How to help your family caregiver avoid burnout?

1. Seek caregiving support

Ask your family or even close friends to assist you in your caregiving duties. My father sought help from his brother to take care of my grandfather at times. Whenever I am free myself, I too will aid in his care. With my father not being the sole caregiver anymore, he can now afford more time to pursue his interests and keep in touch with his friends.

Another option is respite care. You could convince your family caregiver to employ a part-time professional caregiver or send your loved one to a nursing home or assisted living facility for a short period of time to give the primary caregiver a breather. Remember, to continue providing quality care to a loved one, the caregivers must be physically and mentally healthy.

2. Help your caregiver to set realistic expectations

Caregivers strive to provide the best possible care to loved ones, and hence they place a lot of pressure on themselves. During the initial periods, my father would often get irritated over not being able to ease the pain my grandfather experienced in his joints. What I did was to thank my father for doing the best he could in caring for my grandfather. It made him a little less stressed and a little happier. Over time, he learned to accept that he has done his best, and that is enough.

3. Get your caregiver involved in more activities

Caregivers often are so involved with the care of their loved one that they fail to take care of themselves. Get your caregiver actively involved in activities you could do together. It could be as simple as grabbing lunch or arts and crafts.

Every week, my entire family would gather together to have dinner with my dad, and we would watch a movie together. It is a short span of a few hours, but I could tell it is something that my father looks forward to doing.

Getting caregivers more actively involved in other activities they are interested in provides something for them to look forward to and is a way for them to de-stress. It also serves as a valuable platform for you to bond as friends or family.

4. Regularly check on your caregivers

As previously mentioned, caregivers face numerous challenges each day when caring for a loved one which can place tremendous stress on them. Check on them regularly. At the same time, show appreciation for them and their work.

Each day over dinner, I would ask my father how his day was. It serves as an excellent opportunity for him to talk about his feelings and frustrations, thereby unloading a bit of that emotional burden.

Caregivers are more likely to hide away from friends or family in the face of tremendous stress, so it is imperative to check on them regularly to ensure that they are all well and good.

5. Ask your caregiver to seek help if needed

At times, the emotional toll of caregiving might be too much for caregivers to bear. If you notice certain troubling signs they might be exhibiting, encourage them to seek professional help from a therapist or social worker.  In the meantime, arrange for an alternative method of care to give them a much-needed break.

Celebrate the unsung heroes in our lives

Caregivers are our unsung heroes. They provide unwavering care to their loved ones and ask for nothing in return. Yet, when it is too much for them to bear, who can they turn to for help? It is our responsibility as close friends and family to give them the support they need. Shower them with love and appreciation and assist them in their duties to allow them to pursue their own interests. They deserve it.



About the Author: Zhi Yong is highly passionate about mental health issues. He has started his own blog vitaMIND, a blog dedicated to building a resilient mind.  He likes writing on topics based on his own experiences.

July is BIPOC Mental Health Month

In 2008 the United States government designated July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month “to enhance public awareness of mental illness …. among minorities.”

Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author and mental health advocate who wrote works of fiction, nonfiction, and children’s literature about the harmful effects of racism and the mental health impacts on those affected.

Each July, www.rtor.org and its sponsor Laurel House, Inc. honor the legacy of Bebe Moore Campbell. We believe in using language that puts people first and emphasizes their individuality and unique contributions rather than their health or demographic status. Just as we do not refer to people living with schizophrenia as “schizophrenics,” we avoid terms such as “minority” and “marginalized” when referring to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and BIPOC Mental Health Month.

Please join us in recognizing the unique struggles BIPOC face and bringing awareness to the need for adequate, accessible, culturally relevant mental health treatment, care, and services.

Our recent blog post, 8 Accessible Mental Health Resources for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), contains several links to online resources promoting the emotional wellbeing and access to mental health care for these communities.

www.rtor.org and Laurel House are committed to the advancement of racial equity and social justice and to making mental health services available to all.

Photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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