Signs of Family Caregiver Burnout7 min read

What does family caregiver burnout look like? If we could paint a picture of family caregiver fatigue many of the individual sufferers would have similar stories. It usually starts with a parent falling ill. It could be a fall, a surgery, or an illness resulting in the need for support around the home with medication, cleaning, cooking, or even constant care.

Many don’t hesitate to offer this care. It is a temporary service that is offered freely and willingly. 

It doesn’t initially feel like a burden; however, over time, as the responsibility becomes heavier and the load never lightens, family caregivers begin missing the freedoms they once had before they took on the role of custodian for their loved one.

Caregiver Fatigue

Oftentimes, the role of family caregiver settles in slowly but eventually, the role of a caregiver begins to feel less like a duty and more like a burden. This typically leaves the caregiver feeling overwhelmed with guilt or overcome with apathy, which only worsens the swings of emotion associated with watching a loved one dealing with illness.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The truth is, every family caregiver story is different. From beginning to end, their experiences are unique. Some are beautiful, some are unbearably painful, some are unreal or magnificent, but each is 100% theirs. 

What does family caregiver burnout look like? A million things.

But there are dozens of recurrent symptoms that can be indicators that it may be time to ask for help. In much the same way you would advise someone suffering from depression to pursue therapy, a family caregiver experiencing the symptoms of caregiver burnout should also be advised to step back and assess what is best for them and their loved one.

Why does caregiver burnout happen?

Caregiver Burnout Syndrome occurs because the family caregiver is so involved in the care of others that they forget that it is okay to care for themselves. The idea of self-care is often set aside as the last priority. But this is the wrong mindset. When you take on the role of support for someone else, it is your duty to be in good health mentally, physically, and emotionally.

It’s important to also remember that whether you are directly responsible for the care of your loved one or not, watching them deal with memory loss or physical ailments takes an emotional toll on you. Being personally responsible for their care adds a significant amount of stress to the situation. This is a natural feeling. However, family caregivers will neglect these emotions so that they can “stay strong” for those that are in their care. Don’t neglect your emotions! Don’t neglect your own care!

Caregiver Burnout Facts

According to LivingInPlace.org, less than half of family caregivers claim to have received adequate training for being a caregiver.

Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout

According to Senior Living, caregiver burnout symptoms include emotional, physical, and mental stressors that affect your daily life. 

Caregiver Burnout

  • How many of these symptoms have you experienced?

  • It's okay to ask for help...

    As a family caregiver, you've taken on a great responsibility. Most caregivers are so devoted to caring for their family members that they are willing to neglect their own lives to provide continued care. However, when caregiver burnout begins to take over your life, it also impacts the person you are caring for. When caregiver burnout sets in, it's in your best interest and the best interest of your family member that you seek respite support so you can recover, recuperate, and come back refreshed.

What should I do if I’m experiencing caregiver fatigue?

If you are facing caregiver fatigue, there are things you can do to relieve some of your symptoms.

#1 Set Clear Roles

Caregivers report feeling helpless or that they lack control in their lives. Putting heavy expectations on themselves to care for their loved ones, they will take on all the jobs and set aside their career or personal life to fulfill them. Instead, identify what your role is in their life. What tasks could be delved out? What days can you take for yourself? Who can you call in to offer help? Often when we feel out of control, we refused to release control. It’s okay to assign tasks to someone else.

#2 Relax Your Own Expectations

Memory care or terminal illness are progressive diseases. Caregivers can feel helpless watching the slow decline of their loved one. It is not your fault if their health continues to diminish. Do not put expectations on care that you cannot fulfill. Focus on the aspects of your caregiving role that you have control over and place value on the things you’ve accomplished.

#3 Prioritize Self Care

Your health is just as important as theirs. Find something that helps you decompress and give yourself permission to take time for yourself. Appeal to the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of your care. When in the thick of caregiver burnout, finding the motivation to care for yourself can be difficult. Depression and apathy can keep you disinterested in the things you love. Find a support group from other caregivers who can relate and provide advice and feedback. 

“To borrow an appropriate analogy, there is a reason why flight attendants always instruct us to put our own oxygen masks on first before attempting to assist a child or other loved one who needs help. This same logic holds true for at-home caregivers who have the challenging responsibility of caring for family members with various conditions and disabilities. There is truth in the fact that when your own needs are taken care of, the person you care for benefits as well.”

– Susan Irrgang, RN, LNHA, Executive Director at Saunders House

#4 Ask for Help

It’s okay. It really is okay to ask for help. It can be a hard decision to make but getting the support you need will help you support your loved one even more.

Looking back, I think caregiving was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done. And as I watched the days turn into months, and then into years, I learned how to pace myself, how to reach out and ask and receive help. This did not occur overnight, but with lots of trial and error. Another thing I did that was invaluable was to join a support group. This in itself was a lifesaver and a source of comfort and socialization. Fellow travelers make the best companion on the caregiving journey.

Susan Miller, Family Caregiver from California
 

Is it time for respite care?

Unfortunately, less than 15% of caregivers choose respite care. Why? Some believe they cannot afford respite services. Others feel as though they are failing their loved one by asking for help. Many worry about the quality of care their loved one will receive under someone else’s charge. Most importantly, however, family caregivers fail to put their own health as a priority.

If you are worried about whether your family member will accept respite care, try some of these suggestions from Aging.com.

  • Choose the right time and place
  • Direct the conversation (even write a script). You can navigate their concerns by asking them questions and letting them work out why respite is the best solution on their own.
  • Research respite services. Know beforehand how you will pay for it, what the schedule would look like, what services would be offered, why this is going to benefit them, etc.
  • Make sure your loved one knows that this is for them. They may become defensive or accusative. Be sure to redirect the conversation to how this will benefit them most but be prepared for an argument.
  • Bring in support. Your loved one may be more inclined to listen to their pastor, their best friend, their spouse, etc. It is not a personal attack against you. This is especially true if you are their child. They may not be as inclined to accept your request simply because they still view themselves as the parent and the decision-maker.

Your role as a family caregiver is one full of stress, worry, and uncertainty; however, it is also very rewarding, inspiring, and empowering. Family caregivers are compassion, incredible people who deserve a great deal of respect. Never forget that you are a strong person that deserves just as much happiness as you strive to offer to others! Don’t forget to prioritize your own care so you can work to provide better care for others.