Diana was devoted to her dad, and willingly took on the increasing burden of caring for him as his health declined. Retired herself, she felt she was the obvious one and she also didn’t see her siblings lining up to do their share. Dad’s needs increased over the years and what started out as just looking in on him and doing the laundry and grocery shopping increased to round-the-clock care. Brushing off the concerns of her children and friend, Diana threw herself into caregiving, ignoring the suggestions that she seek some respite care. She also ignored the signs that her own health was suffering.
At the end of a tough winter during which Dad was hospitalized several times, Diana found herself suffering from an acute case of pneumonia. Dad had it, too, and they both ended up in the hospital. Diana was so weak when she was finally discharged that she couldn’t even take care of herself. She could barely get to and from the bathroom. She had no choice but to put Dad in a nursing home, the very thing she had promised him she would never do.
The moral of this true story is that a caregiver can't take care of a loved one without taking care of his or herself.
Caregiving burnout is not just a mental state. It can lead to physical complications if the caregiver doesn’t listen to his or her mind and body. Diana could only help Dad as long as she was well, but she did nothing to keep herself well.
We at Sequoia Senior Solutions are so very worried about caregiver burnout that we have developed a free eGuide: Seven Signs of Caregiver Burnout and Nine Ways to Avoid It that you can get by clicking here.
Just what is caregiver burnout?
WebMD says this in Recognizing Caregiver Burnout:
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude -- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned. Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able -- either physically or financially. . . . Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
Some of the signs of caregiver burnout include:
There’s a difference between normal sadness in the face of a sad situation and depression. If your loved one are expressing concern about you, or if life seems darker than usual, be sure and seek help. You can’t be of service to Mom if you yourself are in trouble.
- Fatigue and irritability
Do you find yourself exhausted all the time, even after getting a good night’s sleep several nights in a row? Do you find yourself snapping at everyone around you, from the senior you’re caring for, to your children, to the hapless pizza delivery guy? We’re all allowed a bit of grumpiness in the face of challenges, but if this is becoming the norm rather than the exception, it’s another sign to seek some respite.
- Increased alcohol intake
It’s tempting to try to drown our sorrows. It doesn’t work, but the idea is appealing. Many people have the idea that a couple of drinks will help them get the sleep they need. That may seem to work. They fall asleep quickly. But alcohol, while classified as a depressant, tend to bring on a light sleep and cause people to awaken more frequently. Sleep is crucial, but what you need is restful sleep.
What can you do to counteract caregiver burnout?
- Maintain a healthy diet
Yes, I am talking about diet again. It’s important for maintaining your health so you can take care of your loved one. A Mediterranean-type dies that includes whole grains is best.
- Stay involved with friends and hobbies
It may be hard to get out, but inviting a friend over for tea enables you to have that social contact while still keeping an eye on Mom. If you used to be part of a regular bridge group, you might be able to make room for that in your life with a bit of respite care or by having the group meet at your home.
- Respite care
As your elder's needs increase, it becomes more important for you to have some time off to replenish your caregiving energy.
It may seem at first as though you can’t possibly afford this. Think again. You may not need that many hours. Most in home care agencies have a minimum of four hours per visit, but some have a lower minimum. Four hours even once a week could make a huge difference in your mood and health and energy level.
Is there any way to swing it? Could your siblings each pitch in even a small amount? What about Mom or Dad’s siblings? They’re elderly, too, and may feel helpless, but this is something they could offer that would mean a lot. Does your parent qualify for VA benefits? Brainstorm with those close to you or with a financial advisor. Getting some in home care may be more do-able than you think.
- Just say no
Saying no comes easily to some people. Others have to learn to say no. If you are doing caregiving, you can’t take on jobs you once did cheerfully. Your family or friends or the nonprofit where you used to volunteer may not realize how much time and energy you’re spending caring for your elderly parent or spouse. They have to be told. If this is hard for you, have one of your children or a friend tells them that you can no longer run the bake sale or host big family dinners. It’s easier to advocate for someone else than for yourself.
Caregiving is a noble calling. Caring for yourself doesn’t make you less noble.
If you are in a caregiving role, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. This is the time to call in all resources, favors, and sources of support. Just as you perform regular maintenance on your car, you have to do regular maintenance on yourself in order to perform in top condition, no matter what your age. You don’t have to end up like Diana if you take care of yourself.
And remember we have developed a free eGuide: Seven Signs of Caregiver Burnout and Nine Ways to Avoid It that you can get by clicking here as a first step to getting the help you need.
For more great information, please come visit the blog at our Sequoia Senior Solutions website.