Caregiver burnout is when you feel like you have nothing left – physically, emotionally, and mentally. You also find yourself feeling increasingly negative, uncaring, and resentful. When you’re burned out, caring for your older adult becomes even more challenging. In this article, The Dollar Stretcher interviews a senior care expert to get tips on how to prevent caregiver burnout, notice when it’s happening, and recover from it.
As a caregiver, you’re often faced with many responsibilities during your day. And with all those responsibilities, it’s easy to see how a caregiver could face burnout from time to time. To help caregivers avoid burnout when caregiving, we reached out to Suzanne Newman, of Answers for Elders, for tips. Here’s what she had to say:
Caring for my mom was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. It was also my greatest privilege. Caregiving is a life of extremes: extreme frustration, joy, overwhelm, confusion, pressure, and critical life and death decisions. Caregiver burnout is a real thing. I experienced it, and it also can creep up on you without realizing it.
Q: What are some easy strategies to avoid burnout when caregiving for elderly parents?
Suzanne Newman’s answer: Deal with difficult things up front. Hire a good estate planning or elder law attorney who can draft up documents that give you the authority to deal with healthcare, legal, and financial matters of your parent should you have a need to intercede. Also, prepay your parent’s funeral expenses. Take the time early to honor their wishes for how they want things to be handled.
Much of caregiver stress happens when we have to make decisions that we are not sure about. We don’t know what to do, who to trust, or what they would want if a day comes where a parent is not capable of acting on his or her own behalf. Having those hard conversations early with your parents and family to take care of legalities is peace of mind to all of you!
There is nothing more overwhelming than to have all the responsibility and no idea or authority for a parent’s care or not knowing what their wishes are if they are not in a position to act or make their decisions on their own.
This includes their living situation, care, driving, and dealing with their final wishes. As difficult as these conversations are, they are best had in the early stages before they become overwhelming. Take care of business up front. It eliminates the questions and uncertainties in the future.
Look for the diamonds. I had a beloved aunt who used to school me as a child on the “diamonds” in life that would be polished in my character through adversities that present themselves. That mindset was also invaluable to me in caregiving as I dealt with the day-to-day care of my mom. The hard days were often times the days that my mom and I had the best moments. I realized more and more that every moment of the care of my mom was a gift for my own personal growth and character.
Find those jewels that present themselves that make you a better person in caregiving. Take ten minutes at the start of each day to reflect on yesterday and ask yourself the following questions, but also get into the emotion of each answer you give:
- What was the most valuable thing that happened for me yesterday?
- What am I most grateful for in caregiving?
- What am I most happy about in my life?
- How can I use these experiences in my own growth in the future of my life?
- What have I learned today, and how will this change what I do in the future?
- What were the shining moments that I will cherish? (I promise you that if you dig deep enough, you will find them!)
What about you? Have you become more patient? Learned new communication styles? Found your voice to speak up? Did you connect on a deeper level with your loved one? Have you learned new recipes or cooking skills? Found a better way to manage your time? Found new ways to save money? Did you discover talents you didn’t know you had or find new opportunities? Did you meet new friends or learn to open your heart in a new way? Did you receive help from an unexpected source or discover a greater understanding with others?
Track finances separately. According to AARP and numerous studies, today in the USA the average family caregiver spends well over $5,500 per year on direct costs of their caregiving. For some, it’s even more.
If you can, as a family, find a way to share in those costs and create a “caring for mom/dad bank account.” It’s important to keep finances as part of your discussions. That way there are no surprises or no reason to be put on the hot seat by other family members.
Get educated. On AnswersforElders.com, we have a Decision Guide that helps you understand senior care from a holistic approach, including decisions to be made in “Money & Law,” “Living Solutions,” “Health & Wellness,” and “Life Transitions or Changes.” You can also reach out to our Care Line and consult with eldercare professionals.
Q: What should a caregiver do when they first notice signs of burnout?
Suzanne Newman: Because family caregivers can oftentimes be the “sacrificial lamb” of the family, they are given the role to care for their parent. They are usually the last ones to notice when they are burned out. Whether burned out or not, there are many things a caregiver should be doing on a regular basis:
1. It’s ok to take a break. That means getting away for a day trip, a weekend, or even an afternoon of retail therapy. Find activities that will consume your mind as to not think about your caregiver role for a limited period of time.
2. Find fun things to do with your loved one. To share joyful activities together can revitalize the good with your relationship. Attend cultural events. Take mom or dad to a movie. Work together on special projects like scrapbooking of family photographs. Take mom or dad out to lunch and share a lovely afternoon together.
3. Find a relief caregiver. There are many awesome home care organizations that can come in if needed to help you. They can help with much of the difficult parts of home care, such as light housekeeping, meal preparation, bathing, dressing, or companionship.
4. It’s ok to ask for help. Family members can help you, even if they live far away. This includes financial help and paying for services that help your job go easier like housecleaning, meal preparation services, a home care provider, or healthcare costs. If your family cannot help, perhaps you can start a group within your church to help shoulder some of the chores of home care.
5. Adult Day Services are awesome! In almost every community, there are day services to bring your parent to that can provide relief for you. They also give your parent a chance to socialize, which is so important in keeping their minds active.
Q: Once a caregiver reaches burnout, what are some options for relief?
Suzanne Newman: First and foremost, get honest. You are not, no matter how hard you try to be, “Superwoman.” You need to take care of you. How?
1. Get some rest! I know it sounds like the most obvious thing and you’re probably thinking that you have no time to get any rest. And you might not feel as though you do, but I have to tell that sleep affects more of your life than you can imagine and without it, you are seriously damaging your health.
Ideally you should try to get a good night’s sleep, but if that’s not possible, then you need to grab a little shut-eye when you can. Think cat-nap! Put on a movie for your loved one and take a nap.
2. Eat healthy! It’s just as easy to consume fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, as it is to eat junk food. Make your lunch or put snacks together in advance and grab and go. Also, stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
3. Think positively! There are days when you won’t be able to think about anything good, but if you get quiet and think about one thing that puts a smile on your face and brings warmth to your heart, you’ll feel better. Your body responds directly to your thoughts.
4. Get a little exercise! A little makes a huge amount of difference and it can be as simple as taking your dog for a walk. Go outside and get some Vitamin D.
5. Separate occasionally. If your buttons get pushed (and they will at times!), take a walk around the block. Call a friend and vent. Get yourself to laugh about these moments.
6. Ask for help! Nothing is more important than asking for, searching out, and receiving help. Do not do caregiving alone!
7. Let it out! If you don’t find a way to express your emotions; your emotions will find a way to do it for you. Honor your emotions. They are there for a reason.
8. Reassess and set healthy boundaries! Your boundaries do not have to push others away. Remember we are treated based upon the strength or weakness of our personal boundaries. Be honest with yourself and the situation. Is this too much for you to handle? If it is, then do the following.
9. Seek out a professional Geriatric Care Manager who is especially trained in assessing your parent’s care plan. Perhaps there are better solutions for both of you that you may or may not be seeing for their care that can take the stress off of both of you.
10. Laugh out loud! Caregiving has some very funny moments. Find ways to lighten up your life and laugh. It’s also great to laugh at yourself too! A sense of humor is your greatest ally!
11. It’s your choice! Remember that everything you do, you have a choice. You are not powerless in your situation. If you think differently, resentment and depression will set in.
Q: What are some causes for caregiver burnout?
Suzanne Newman: One important reason is losing yourself. The main cause of caregiver burnout is giving up yourself for someone else. When your energy is expended on someone else without taking care of you, your own well will run dry. Take care of you and make your self-care your #1 priority.
Also, it is important to note that sometimes you are just simply in over your head. Often times, families do not seek out skilled care out of guilt, thinking they need to handle caregiving that is beyond their means on their own.
The reality is, however, that eventually your parent’s care will likely be too much for you. If your parent’s needs exceed your abilities, you are actually doing them a disservice not getting them the skilled care that they need.
Q: What are some things that most caregivers forget to do that eventually cause burnout?
Suzanne Newman: Caregivers tend to put themselves last. They tend to take way too much on and not b. They often have difficulty saying no. This builds up resentment, anger, frustration, and despair.
Remember that caregiving is part of your life, but it should not be your whole life. For me, caregiving profoundly changed my life. I know I grew as a person far beyond what I thought I was capable. I am a different person today because of it. My values and priorities were transformed, and most importantly, it healed so many voids and angers within me through the privilege of being there for my mom. It can for you in a positive way as well.
The Diamonds in Caregiving are there. They are there in your soul and will shine brightly if you allow them to shine.
Recommended for you:
- 3 Ways to Manage Caregiver Stress and Prevent Burnout
- Two Steps to Recover from Caregiver Burnout
- 5 Ways Caregivers Can Care for Themselves Too
Guest contributor: The Dollar Stretcher has been offering personal finance and frugal living tips since 1996. Visit their Baby Boomer library as well as additional articles like Helping Elderly Parents Organize Must Have Financial paperwork.
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