Caregiving takes a toll over time

Caregiver expends too much energy caring + not enough time to recover physically and emotionally = caregiver burnout

For most of us, February finally feels like life is back to normal and we are back into the swing of a more even-perhaps-less-busy routine.

However, for family caregivers caring for a spouse or older parent, life is always busy juggling the many demands of caregiving and everyday life. Family members who are feeling overwhelmed may be entertaining the idea of placing an ad for their role as family caregiver.

It might look something like this:

HELP WANTED Family caregiver to provide love, personal care, medical advocacy and any other attention that is required for aging loved one.

The successful candidate will have:

• The ability to shift tasks regularly to meet the changing needs of the aging loved one;

• Experience in planning and hands-on activities to assist the elder in meeting his or her own personal needs, maintaining as much independence as possible and protecting his or her quality of life;

• A background in a range of age-related disease and a preferably a degree in social work, nursing, and gerontology;

• The ability to be kind, sensitive, accepting, understanding and patient. Must be in good health and possess a good sense of humour.

Work hours are unpredictable and can include on-call, day/night shifts and weekend. At this time, there is no financial remuneration but the benefit package includes the satisfaction of giving and helping their aging loved one.

A simple mathematical formula best describes burnout.

Caregiver expends too much energy caring + not enough time to recover physically and emotionally = caregiver burnout.

The demands of caring are unforgiving and the emotional and physical pressures of caring for loved ones can take a toll. Signs of burnout include fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression.

Caregivers often feel guilty for spending time on themselves rather than for their aging parent.

Risk factors for caregiver burnout include:

The Melting Pot: Caregivers can experience difficulty separating themselves from their caregiver role. Many feel their personal identity becomes intertwined with the role caregiver.

Balancing Act: There is only 24 hours in the day and many caregivers struggle to balance their caregiver role with parenting, a career, a personal life and family time.

Expecting Too Much: Caregivers may want to “fix” their aging loved one’s challenges, and experience disappointment when it’s beyond their abilities. On the other hand, aging loved ones may inadvertently (or intentionally) put too much pressure on an adult child to be their one and only support.

Not Knowing what to Expect: Caregivers are often thrust into their roles without knowing what’s involved. Some feel trapped, isolated or angry about their responsibilities. Many caregivers don’t recognize the signs or burnout or are reluctant to make changes to improve the situation.

As a caregiver, you are just as important as the one you are caring for.

The first step is recognizing that the signs or burnout. The second step is giving yourself permission to practise self-care and avoid burnout.

Come back for our next column to learn more about the signs of caregiver burnout and how to prevent it.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.