Six signs of caregiver burnout
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By Julie Ann Anderson  October 25, 2013 12:00 am

Home caregivers are constantly called upon to go above and beyond the call of duty – and amazingly enough, they usually rise to this challenge.

However, home caregivers also have to be careful they don’t reach “burnout,” a state in which they feel their caregiving chores have become too much to handle.

Although there is often a physical component to burnout, it’s usually rooted more in emotional and psychological causes. Burnout can happen to anyone, and it can be short or long-term. It’s important to recognize when it might be happening to you, as burnout can lead to depression if left unchecked.

Caring for an older adult can be among the most fulfilling experiences for any family caregiver. So many tasks bring pleasure as you give back to someone who may have given you so much.

However, even as you lovingly provide support to a senior, you may have problems managing and balancing that support with your own busy life. The responsibilities can impact you physically, mentally and emotionally. And that could lead to the kind of distress that could result in serious health problems.

 Signs of burnout

In his valuable book, “The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers,” Dr. Barry J. Jacobs lists six common signs of possible burnout:

 1. Fatigue: Everyone gets tired, and everyone has days when it’s a little harder to get going than usual. Fatigue describes a more extreme state of tiredness; it's a much deeper feeling of exhaustion than simple tiredness, and it may become a somewhat chronic state. It may help to define fatigue as a feeling of weariness rather than as a feeling of tiredness.

 2. Irritability: Again, all home caregivers have days when they’re perhaps a little snappy. This is part of being human; however, if you find yourself flying off the handle at little things or even just having general low-level grumpiness that doesn’t go away, this may be an indication that you’re feeling a high degree of irritability.

3. Sleeplessness: This isn’t the same as fatigue; this is actually not sleeping well. It may result from taking a long time to fall asleep (perhaps because you are fretting over some aspect of your caregiving or over your loved one’s health), or it may be a result of having restless sleep from which you wake and then have a difficult time drifting back to sleep. Lack of sleep can contribute to other issues, such as fatigue and irritability.

 4. Feelings of helplessness: Some home caregivers feel trapped, as if they have no say in their own lives anymore; they may feel they have become defined as nothing more than the persons who take care of ill loved ones, and there is nothing they can do about this.

 5. Cynicism: Despite the fact home caregivers perform an incredible job and do things that are of vital importance both to their ill loved ones and to other members of their families, they sometimes feel that they’re wasting their time, that no one appreciates them, or that this is hardly a job worthy of their talents.

 6. Self-disparagement: Thoughts of “who cares what I think?” or “what I want doesn’t really matter” are signs a person is not feeling good about himself or herself. Caregivers perform invaluable tasks; it’s important they know their own self-worth.

If you find that some or all of these symptoms apply to you, bring this up with your doctor. Let him or her know you are worried you’re burning out (or could be headed for depression) and get advice about how you can deal with these issues. Home Instead Senior Care offers a great resource to family caregivers on our website .  You can look into short-term respite care services to help give you some down time and care for yourself.  

Taking a short break from caregiving to be good to yourself will make you a much better caregiver for everyone involved. Be good to you!


Julie Ann Anderson is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park; mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.

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