One of the main reasons family members take on the role of caregiver is because they love their aging loved ones and they want to help them with a better life and prolonged independence.
Sometimes though, the rewards of caregiving are outweighed by the stress, physical and emotional work, which invariably leads to burnout.
Do you answer, “Yes” to any of these questions?
• I am always tired.
• I don’t sleep well.
• I get sick more than usual.
• I have gained/lost weight unintentionally.
• I have back pain, headaches, feelings of fatigue and depression.
• I don’t have time for myself.
• I have given up hobbies and reduced contact with friends and family.
• I have a short temper and outbursts of anger.
• I cry easily.
• I worry about not having enough money to make ends meet.
• I feel I don’t have enough knowledge/experience to give proper care.
Reflect on your answers. Ask someone you trust if they are concerned about you or have noticed certain behaviours.
The best way to avoid caregiver burnout is to take action. Karen Henderson from the Long Term Care Network (www.howtocare.com) offers some great tips:
• Research and understand the disease(s) you face so you know what to expect as the condition(s) progresses.
• Plan early to find ways to support yourself and to stay healthy through diet, exercise, vitamins and supplements, yoga or meditation. Try to avoid making promises you may be unable to keep.
• Reserve time for yourself – take time off to pursue some interests or hobby.
• Investigate and use respite service possibilities. Take advantage of offers of help from family, friends and community agencies. Define the help you need by making a list of tasks that others can perform when they offer to help.
• Try to put yourself in the other person’s place to understand why someone may resist care.
• Be patient with yourself; recognize that some days are going to be more difficult than others.
• Try to think of at least one good thing that happened today.
• Try to get enough rest.
• Have at least one person you can confide in, who can give you support and to whom you can provide support as well through a mutual relationship.
• Realize that there may be a time when you will be unable to continue to care for your loved one at home and that you need not feel guilty about this.
• Learn how to be an advocate for yourself and the person for whom you care.
• If you are caring for someone with dementia, investigate residential care facilities in your area and have the paperwork ready should the time come when placement becomes a necessity.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Solutions for Seniors Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.