Providing care for someone with dementia can take a toll on the caretaker and there are some things every caregiver should know about burnout.
Burnout is a very real phenomenon among people providing care for someone with dementia. The better new caregivers understand burnout, including what it is, what causes it and what can be done about it, the better prepared they can be for caring for their loved one and themselves alike.
Below are six things caregivers should know about burnout.
1. It’s common
Burnout is a reality among dementia caregivers. In fact, studies report that between 30 and 40 percent of dementia caregivers experience depression and emotional stress.
Caring for someone with dementia is both physically and emotionally taxing and can impact your life in a big way. Caregivers often feel ashamed or guilty for feeling burned out. But it’s important for caregivers to understand that it’s perfectly okay to admit to feeling burned out.
2. It’s recognizable
Burnout doesn’t have to slip by undetected. There are a number of signs and symptoms of burnout that a caregiver or someone close to a caregiver can watch out for. These include:
- Changes in weight, appetite or diet
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Decreased desire to engage in hobbies, interests and activities
- Becoming sick more often or experiencing excessive headaches and stomachaches
- Reclusion from friends, family and social endeavors
- Fatigue and lack of energy
3. It’s preventable
Caregiver burnout can be prevented before it sets in. Here are five things caregivers can do to avoid getting burned out:
- Set aside time for yourself everyday. Even if it’s just for an hour, a daily walk in the park or a trip to a coffee shop with a good book can do wonders to re-charge your battery.
- Stay healthy. Maintain a proper diet, stick to your normal sleeping schedule and find time to get a little exercise.
- Stay on task. Form a schedule at the beginning of every week for all the chores, doctor appointments and other tasks on the agenda. Making a list of what you’ll do each day can keep you from feeling overwhelmed.
- Stick to a routine. A routine can not only help provide a foundation of normalcy for a caregiver, but a little consistency can be good for someone with dementia.
- Participate in activities. Many caregivers will have their loved one engage in arts and crafts, puzzles and other mind-stimulating activities. Participating in these activities yourself can serve as a good stress reliever.
4. It can lead to health problems
Stress, lack of sleep and an unhealthy diet can weaken the immune system and leave a burned-out caregiver more vulnerable to things like high blood pressure or cholesterol, heartburn and heart attacks, diabetes, anxiety disorders and even cancer.
5. You don’t have to do it alone
It’s easy for caregivers to take on more than they can handle and be hesitant to ask for help. But caregiving solo is one of the easiest ways to develop burnout. Caregivers can benefit greatly from forming a team of other nearby relatives to help spread around tasks and prevent anyone person from shouldering too much responsibility.
Professional respite care is available and in certain cases can even be partially covered by Medicare. There are also adult day care facilities for people with dementia along with professional in-home help.
6. There are ways to get help
Caregivers suffering from burnout have some resources available to help. The Alzheimer’s Association reaches out to caregivers in a number of ways including an online community with message boards and chat rooms, a 24/7 helpline, caregiving training resources and more.
Better understanding caregiver burnout is the first step in preparing for it, preventing it and getting help for it.