What is Caregiver Burnout?

Alex Milzer from Senior Directory joins Slutsky Elder Law as a Guest Contributor

A caregiver is someone who provides physical and emotional support for another individual, usually a senior citizen, child, or someone with disabilities. Although caregivers are vital for our healthcare system to function properly, they are also exceptionally prone to burnout. To elaborate, caregiver burnout is a phenomenon that occurs when a caregiver is overextended and emotionally drained. Burnout usually happens gradually over time. Day in and out, the caregiver provides care to a patient without respite or support from other healthcare professionals or family members. Eventually, they become overwhelmed with their caregiver duties, unable to perform once easy tasks. 

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Burnout usually sets in unexpectedly, without the caregiver realizing they have become victim of this dangerous phenomenon. Sadly, by the time the caregiver realizes they are burnt out, a tremendous amount of damage has usually been done to themselves and the patient. It is critical to recognize the signs of caregiver burnout long before things get out of hand. Below are signs you should watch out for if you or someone you know is a caregiver: 

– Feeling exhausted, worn out, and depleted

– Feeling hopeless

– Feeling angry or resentful towards the patient

– Experiencing feelings of detachment towards family and friends

-Experiencing feelings of guilt

-Feeling like they cannot give themselves or their family enough time

-Difficulty sleeping

-Decline in physical or mental health

Who is Most Prone To Caregiver Burnout?

Home health aides provide care to seniors living at home. Hospitals employ RN’s and LPN’s to assist with surgeries, procedures, and ER Visits. Assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities provide care to seniors requiring ongoing support. But which of these environments are caregivers most prone to burnout? 

Interestingly, burnout has more to do with the patient/caregiver relationship than the setting. Caregivers providing support to family members are most prone to burnout. Astonishingly, thirty-six percent of family caregivers described their situation as highly stressful, as reported by AARP.  

It is easy to see why family caregivers are most susceptible to burnout than professional caregivers. First, they are personally attached to the outcome of care. The patient is their loved one, and they are emotionally invested in their wellbeing. Secondly, family caregivers typically provide care during their free time, which means they have a regular job and spend after-work and weekend hours providing care. Thirdly, they are more comfortable with the patient, resulting in susceptibility to being more irritated when the patient doesn’t do what they ask, or things don’t go as planned. And fourthly, family caregivers often have to communicate with other family members about the patient, leading to internal family conflicts. 

Elder Abuse and Caregiver Burnout

Elder abuse is a growing problem in the United States. According to Justice.gov, at least 10% of adults age 65+ will experience elder abuse in a given year.  It can be hard to identify the signs of elder abuse because it can come in so many forms. Some signs are bruises or other injuries on the body, changes in behavior or mood, withdrawal from outside activities and relationships with others, fearfulness, or anxiety when being left alone with certain people or in certain places. 

Often, the patient will not report elder abuse because the perpetrator is a family member providing care. Typically, elder abuse occurs when the caregiver is burnt out. This is all the more reason family caregivers should take regular breaks from their caregiving duties, even it means hiring respite care from a home health agency. 

Conclusion 

Caregivers often feel overwhelmed, leading to frustration, anger, and even resentment towards the patient. There are many ways to prevent caregiver burnout, including getting regular exercise, talking with friends about what you’re going through, and getting help from other family members and professional caregivers. If you or someone you know is experiencing caregiver burnout, please contact a mental health professional immediately. 

Article by Alex Milzer with Senior Directory

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