Caregiver Stress and Burnout

Caregiver

While caring for a loved one can be very rewarding, it also involves many stressors. And since caregiving is often a long-term challenge, the emotional impact can snowball over time. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better or if, despite your best efforts, their condition is gradually deteriorating.

If the stress of caregiving is left unchecked, it can take a toll on your health, relationships, and state of mind—eventually leading to burnout, a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. And when you get to that point, both you and the person you’re caring for suffer.

That’s why taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. Cultivating your own emotional and physical well-being is just as important as making sure your family member gets to their doctor’s appointment or takes their medication on time.

Learning to recognize the signs of caregiver stress and burnout is important, so you can take immediate action to prevent things from becoming worse and start improving the situation for both you and the person you’re caring for.

Caregiver

Feeling powerless is the number one contributor to burnout and depression. And it’s an easy trap to fall into as a caregiver, especially if you feel stuck in a role you didn’t expect or helpless to change things for the better. But no matter the situation, you aren’t powerless. This is especially true when it comes to your state of mind. You can’t always get the extra time, money, or physical assistance you’d like, but you can always get more happiness and hope.

Practice acceptance. Try to avoid the emotional trap of feeling sorry for yourself or searching for someone to blame.

Embrace your caregiving choice. Acknowledge that, despite any resentments or burdens you feel, you have made a conscious choice to provide care.

Look for the silver lining. Think about the ways caregiving has made you stronger or how it’s brought you closer to the person you’re taking care of or to other family members.

Don’t let caregiving take over your life. Invest in things that give you meaning and purpose whether it’s your family, church, a favorite hobby, or your career.

Focus on the things you can control. Rather than stressing out over things you can’t control, focus on how you choose to react to problems.

Celebrate the small victories. If you start to feel discouraged, remind yourself that all your efforts matter.

Share your feelings. The simple act of expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic.

Prioritize activities that bring you enjoyment. Make regular time for hobbies that bring you happiness, whether it’s reading, working in the garden, tinkering in your workshop, knitting, playing with the dogs, or watching the game.

Make yourself laugh. Laughter is an excellent antidote to stress—and a little goes a long way. Whenever you can, try to find the humor in everyday situations.

Get out of the house. Seek out friends, family, and respite care providers to step in with caregiving so you can have some time away from the home.

Maintain your personal relationships. Don’t let your friendships get lost in the shuffle of caregiving.

From Caregiver Stress and Burnout

Caring

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Making lives meaningful in old age

“The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine’s focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul… Making lives meaningful in old age … requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does.”

Atul Gawande

Old lady

“In 1991, in the tiny town of New Berlin, in upstate New York, a young physician named Bill Thomas performed and experiment. He didn’t really know what he was doing. He was thirty-one years old, less than two years out of family medicine residency, and he had just taken a new job as medical director of Case Memorial Nursing Home, a facility with eighty severely disabled elderly residents. About half of them were physically disabled; four out of five had Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive disability….

The staff at Chase saw nothing especially problematic about the place, but Thomas with his newcomer’s eyes saw despair in every room. The nursing home depressed him. He wanted to fix it. At first, her tried to fix it the way that, as a doctor, he knew best…. He set about doing physical examinations of the residents and ordering scans and tests and changing heir medications. But, after several weeks of investigations and alterations, he’d accomplished little except driving the medical bills up and making the nursing staff crazy…. “I was confusing care with treatment,” he told me. He didn’t give up, though. He came to think the missing ingredient in this nursing home was life itself, and he decided to try an experiment to inject some…

They ordered the hundred parakeets for delivery all on the same day…. When the delivery truck arrived, the birdcages hadn’t. The driver therefore released them into the beauty salon on the ground floor, shut the door, and left. The cages arrived later that day, but in flat boxes, unassembled. It was “total pandemonium,” Thomas said. The memory of it still puts a grin on his face… He, his wife, Jude, the nursing director, Greising, and a handful of others spent hours assembling the cages, chasing the parakeets through a cloud of feathers around the salon and delivering birds to every resident’s room. The elders gathered outside the salon windows to watch. “They laughed their butts off,” Thomas said…. They were so patently incompetent that most everyone dropped their guard and simply pitched in – the residents included…

“People who we had believed weren’t able to speak started speaking,” Thomas said. “People who had been completely withdrawn started coming to the nurses’ station and saying, ”I’ll take the dog for a walk.” All the parakeets were adopted and named by the residents. The lights turned back on in people’s eyes. IN a book he wrote about the experience, Thomas quoted from journals that the staff kept, and they described how irreplaceable the animals had become in the daily lives of residents, even ones with advanced dementia:

Gus really enjoys his birds. He listens to their singing and asks if they can have some of his coffee.

The residents are really making my job easier; many of them give me a daily report on their birds (e.g., “sings all day,” “doesn’t eat,” “seems perkier”)…

The inhabitants of Chase Memorial Nursing Home now included one hundred parakeets, four dogs, two cats, plus a colony of rabbits and a flock of laying hens. There were also hundreds of indoor plants and a thriving vegetable and flower garden. The home had on-site childcare for the staff and a new after-school program.

Researchers studied the effects of this program over two years, comparing a variety of measures for Chase’s residents with those of residents at another nursing home nearby. Their study found that the number of prescriptions required per resident fell to half of that control nursing home. Psychotropic drugs for agitation, like Haldol, decreased in particular. The total drug costs fell to just 38 percent of the comparison facility. Deaths fell 15 percent….

The most important finding was that it is possible to provide them with reasons to live, period. Even residents with dementia so severe that they had lost the ability to grasp much of what was going on could experience a life with grater meaning and pleasure and satisfaction. It is much harder to measure how much more worth people find in being alive than how many fewer drugs they depend on or how much longer they can live. But could anything matter more?”

From ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande

Care

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Here’s a little hug for you…

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The other day a near-stranger gave me a hug. Well, she was not a stranger – just an ex-colleague who was working in the same organisation with me for a few months. Such hugs are pretty normal here. In my birth land however she would be considered just an acquaintance – somebody you would never address with just their first name, as that would be considered too informal. First names can be used only for friends and relatives there. Colleagues, acquaintances and older people are always addressed with their first name and patronymic. And definitely no hugs… which is a pity as a wave of studies has documented some incredible emotional and physical health benefits that come from hugs and touch. Some of these benefits are listed in my 2014 post The Power of Touch.

So let’s share a hug for a good week…

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Just care enough and be there…

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Spotted this poster on Facebook today. So true and so well said…. It is so important to keep an eye on the nearest and dearest, talk to them about it and share our experiences…

Just a few months ago we received a note from our children’s college – a young man of their age ended his life. One of my children knew him – he was in the same year…. Then my other son, who lives at the University Hall of residence, mentioned that he decided to become Resident Assistant (RA) so he could help younger students who are struggling… They already had cases of students cutting themselves there…

There were times I just wished I could run away and hide – I was still laughing, I was still joking… Glad there were people in my life who helped me get through it, who helped me find my way…

Feeling depressed or suicidal is not a character defect, flaw or weakness. Lots of people who were experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts have no history of mental illnesses, drugs or alcohol abuse. It is just sometimes people get lost in life and can’t see another way… Listen to them carefully and help them gently to get back onto their feet and find their way…

To make a difference in someone's life, you don't have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect. You just have to care enough and be there. Picture Quote #1

We all can make a difference in someone’s life…

THE END