February 1, 2018

Caregiver Stress and Burnout

Oaklawn Center on Aging

by Kathy Packard, MS, M.Ed., LPC, Director of Education, Oaklawn Center on Aging

Caregivers, are you experiencing caregiver stress or burnout? According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with dementia.  Approximately 35% of those 15 million caregivers report that their health has gotten worse due to caring for their loved one.  Obviously, caregiver stress is common among family caregivers.

Caregiver Stress: If you are a caregiver and are experiencing a loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, have feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, anger, rage, anxiety, agitation, irritability, are experiencing a change in sleep patterns, appetite, weight, feel exhausted, or feel sick more often; you may be experiencing caregiver stress.  It may be time to take a break from full time caregiving and get some help.  You can reach out to a family member, trusted friend, church family, or a healthcare professional.

Caregiver Burnout: If you are experiencing the same symptoms of caregiver stress with the added burden of feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person you are caring for, emotional and physical exhaustion, excessive use of alcohol and or sleep medications, you are experiencing caregiver burnout. Caregiver burnout can happen before you realize it.  Other symptoms that are associated with caregiver burnout are:

  • role confusion; it can be difficult to delineate your roles of spouse and caregiver. How do you care for a spouse who no longer remembers that he/she is married?
  • lack of resources; limited community resources, limited or no finances to use for care;
  • lack of control; limited ability to manage and plan for the needs of your loved one or yourself;
  • unreasonable demands; “no one else can take care of my loved one like I can”, placing a heavy burden on yourself to always be there;
  • illness; as a caregiver you do not recognize caregiver burnout until you become so ill that you can no longer give the care that is required.As a caregivers we forget to tend our own garden, the weeds of stress take over and you neglect your own emotional, physical and spiritual health. Give yourself permission to tend your garden; take time to refresh and renew your soul by giving yourself permission to take 5 minutes a day to do some deep breathing without interruption, go for a walk in the fresh air, hire a caregiver so you can leave the demands of caregiving for a little while, do something you enjoy and reap the benefit of feeling happy.Make your own tool box for coping with stress, use what works for you and keep it handy when you feel the symptoms of stress:
  • Deep breathing
  • Talk to a trusted friend
  • Set time aside daily (5 minutes) just for you
  • Research and know your community resources
  • Know your limitations
  • Educate yourself on caregiving skills
  • Use humor
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Good nutrition

    By giving yourself permission to take time off, you remain healthy and happy. You can look at the situation with a realistic view. Before you became a full time caregiver, you may have been employed and may have raised a family, your employer placed value on your time, talent and expertise by allowing you two days a week to rest and a vacation so that you could recharge and come back to work refreshed and renewed with a positive purpose. So I challenge the 15 million caregivers to place as much value on your time, talent and expertise as your employer did, and give yourself a much needed break. For more information on caregiver stress access these websites: