How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

What do over 53 million Americans [i] have in common?

Answer: They are the “unsung heroes”, unpaid caregivers that provide personal care for a family member or loved one – without any financial compensation. (Be sure to check out our article on How to Get Paid as a Family Caregiver for your loved one!)

As of 2020, 24% of these unsung heroes are caring for more than one adult (up from 18% in 2015). [ii]

Add to that a crisis-level shortage of caregivers. [iii] According to Jess Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, Maine has the highest percentage of residents 65 years or older and has 11,000 hours of personal care unstaffed each week in the state. This crisis is nationwide and expected to get worse as our population ages.

Nursing Homes Also Face Staff Shortage

According to a survey [iii] by the American Health Care Association of 759 nursing home providers revealed that 3 out of 5 nursing homes have limited new admissions due to staffing shortages. And 3 out of 4 nursing homes feel they may need to close their doors altogether because of staffing issues.

The Burden Falls On Families

Whether your caregiving role was planned (example: your parent moves in with you) or unexpected (example: your loved one has a sudden decline in health, such as stroke or a fall resulting in injury) will determine how prepared you are for your role as caregiver.

In either circumstance the tremendous amount of navigating and streamlining schedules, appointments, food preparation, personal care, laundry, and many more responsibilities assigned to you as the caregiver can leave you tired, discouraged, exhausted and even a bit resentful.

There are strategies, communities and even forms of technology that can help lighten the burden, keep them safe and help both you and your loved one enjoy the time you spend together.

Tip: Take a few minutes each day to assess how the day went. What could you do to save time and energy?

What Are The Phases of Caregiver Burnout?

The Honeymoon Phase

You are confident in your ability to care for your loved one. You have lined all (as far as you can anticipate) the appointments, medications, meal preparation, and obtained any adaptive equipment necessary along with a schedule to keep days organized and as stress-free as possible. You may have even rearranged your personal and work schedule to accommodate your loved one's needs and schedule.

During this phase, you may feel you can handle anything. This phase can last from a few days to a few months.

The Monotony Phase

In this phase, you both settle into a routine and experience the ups and downs of everyday life, along with tweaking schedules, routines, etc. You could skip this phase altogether if demands for your time are more than you bargained for or your loved one's health takes a turn for the worst.

It is easy to think that this phase will be the way things will always be. Declining health in you or your loved one or a change in schedule, financial burdens, or family obligations can overwhelm and throw you into “the brownout phase”.

Tip: Take advantage of this lull and explore ways to lighten the load and research communities and tools available before you experience a crisis.

The Brownout Phase

You are exhausted and fatigued. You begin to see caregiving as a chore or a burden without any reward. Your tendency to place the needs of your loved one slowly start to take precedence over your own needs. You neglect or skip your doctor appointments, and avoid exercise or self-care.

Tip: Assess your life, your priorities, and your schedule. Take the necessary steps to get back on track so your needs are met.

The Burnout Phase

You start to distance yourself from your loved one. The sheer amount of physical, mental, and emotional energy you expend has left you exhausted. You become numb and unresponsive to the feelings of the one you are caring for. You carry out the duties of caregiving but without any emotion.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

  • Irritable
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Withdrawal from friends, family
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feeling you want to hurt the person you are caring for
  • Weight change-loss or gain
  • No motivation
  • Anger

Unrealistic Expectations: As the honeymoon phase wanes, the reality of caregiving sets in. You may expect (consciously or subconsciously) that your loved one’s health would improve or not decline. You may feel responsible for their health. This may be unrealistic for patients suffering from a progressive disease, such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.

Lack of Control: A lack of resources, money, and skills to plan, manage and organize your loved one's care can lead you to feel you have no control over the situation.

Unreasonable Demands: You may be placing unreasonable demands on yourself. This is very common, especially when caregiving for a close family member (spouse, parent, child). You may feel that no one else can help or would want to help. In some instances, other family members place unreasonable demands on (you) the caregiver.

   Prevent Caregiver Burnout

  • Confide your feelings to someone you trust. That may be your spouse, friend, relative, clergy, or mental health professional.
  • Seek out help, friends, family, and in-home care. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Check out our in-home care search tool.
  • Seek out caregiver support groups. Depending on your loved one's diagnosis; there are several support groups that meet- both online and in person. The National Alliance on Caregiving has a directory of eldercare and other communities. This directory can help you locate either in-person or online support.
  • Make personal care and health a priority. When flying, the flight attendant reviews procedures for emergencies. Putting on your oxygen mask before putting on your loved ones is a strong visual example of self-care. If you don’t take care of your health and needs, you won’t be able to help others.
  • Meal delivery services. Even if your loved one is on a special diet, the meal prep and delivery service arena has exploded, offering delicious, diet-specific options. Depending on insurance and financial status, some of these services are free. This service alone could free up time- With the shopping and meal preparation already done for you.
  • Incontinence products. Many online stores offer monthly auto-ship, alleviating the need to have to remember and purchase. This option can alleviate the stress of running out of incontinence products.

Utilize Technology

The advancement of technology has ushered in many tools that can make you and your loved one’s life easier; they are time-saving and can add a layer of safety.

  • Medication dispensers. These devices can automatically dispense medications, light up or make a sound when a dose is due for the hearing or sight impaired, and some can even automatically order meds to be delivered when due.
  • Wearable GPS /remote monitoring devices. These devices come in either wearable (pendant, watch, or bracelet) or as an app. From monitoring falls to keeping track of a loved one with wandering tendencies to monitoring vital signs, the added layer of safety is a great addition to alleviate caregiver stress.

Virtual Companion/Online Friend

Sometimes, your loved one may need companionship outside of the circle of family. They may be housebound, unable to leave home, resulting in loneliness and isolation. Virtual companions are specially trained individuals that are available online to help fill that gap. They offer companionship and are trained (some hold degrees in mental health fields) to identify the signs of depression along with physical and mental decline.

Brooke worked as a home health and hospice nurse for many years. During her time working with patients and families, she saw the pressures and strain of what caregivers went through while caring for loved ones. Lack of resources to help caregivers prompted her to start a support group for caregivers in her area. Since then Brooke has turned to writing courses for nurses and content writing. In her spare time, she enjoys time with family, her dog and travel.