Caring for someone with dementia can be very hands-on and intensive. When you are the primary caretaker for someone with Alzheimers or other dementia, it is easy to slide into burnout without realizing it. Caregiver burnout is physical, emotional, and mental fatigue that is often accompanied by a change in attitude.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
Are you feeling stressed by your role as a caretaker? You may be suffering from burnout if you are experiencing some or all of the following:
- Withdrawal from friends and family. Do you find yourself avoiding invitations?
- Feelings of irritability.
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed. If you are having trouble summoning enthusiasm for crafts, cooking or other activities that you used to like, you may be suffering from burnout.
- Physical and emotional exhaustion.
- Changes in sleeping patterns. People who are suffering from burnout may find that they sleep more than they used to. They may also suffer from bouts of insomnia.
- Getting sick more often. When you are under stress, it can do a number on your immune system. You may find that you are more prone to catching illnesses and that it takes longer for you to feel better.
- Feelings of hostility toward the person who you are caring for. This can be especially unnerving.
- Feelings of anxiety. Sometimes you will feel anxious about things that never used to worry you. In other cases, you may feel free-floating anxiety with no one root cause.
- Neglecting your own needs. You may be too busy to take care of yourself or find that you don’t care anymore about tending to your own needs.
How to Cope with Caregiver Burnout
Learning to recognize the symptoms of caregiver burnout is the first step in dealing with the issue. If you are suffering many of the symptoms above, you may be dealing with burnout. When you are burnt out, the situation is not healthy for either you or the person you are caring for.
A few ways to cope with burnout:
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask friends and family to help out. Respite care at an assisted living facility for a few hours or days may allow caregivers to get a bit of time to yourself.
- Talk to a supportive friend or family member. Sometimes just talking about the problem can help you feel some relief.
- Embrace the caregiver role. Know that this is not a role that lasts forever. If the person you are caring for is not able or willing to express gratitude, imagine what they would say if they were healthy and able.
- Develop a regular meditation practice. Caregivers taught meditation show lower levels of stress and better coping skills.
- Celebrate the small victories. By focusing on the little things that go right, you can give yourself the energy to keep going.
Caring for an elderly or ill loved one is one of the biggest challenges most of us will ever face. By recognizing the difficulties and making time for self-care, you can help yourself avoid burnout and do what is best for both of you.
- ‘Elder Rage’: Book Details Heartache of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, Offers Advice, Warning Signs
- Caregiver Stress and Burnout: Tips for Regaining Your Energy, Optimism, and Hope
- Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver Resources