Thirty one percent of the adult population age 20 to 75 provide informal care to a family member or friend who is ill or disabled. Burnout can result from the physical and emotional challenges associated with being a caregiver. While family caregivers give of themselves out of love, there are real physical, emotional and financial costs associated with caregiving. As we live longer and caregiving becomes a bigger issue in the U.S., learn what can be done to help our caregiving community.
If you’re a daughter or son, sibling, parent, or spouse, or even a friend, some day you may find yourself in the role of “family caregiver”. More than 52 million Americans are already there.1They wear many hats –that of companion, personal shopper, financial manager, chauffeur, housekeeper, cook, personal care assistant, advocate, counselor, nurse, emotional support provider and more. They are a lifeline for the people they support and our long term care system. A study by AARP reveals that at 350 billion dollars, the economic value of non-compensated caregiving exceeds 2006 Exxon Mobile profits.
While the caregiving role can be enormously rewarding, it also means a lot of sacrifice. It may start with just a few hours a week. Usually the need expands and with each increase, caregivers forfeit more of their personal lives. The average family caregiver provides nearly 18 to 20 hours of care a week in addition to holding down a job and managing a family.2 It is not unusual for caregivers to be forced to leave the workforce as needs escalate. Caregiving can last from less than a year to several decades.
Caregiving comes with a whole host of conflicting emotions. Self doubt might be at the top of the list. Are you making the right decisions? Are you following the doctor’s instructions correctly? When you cannot fix the unfixable you may become frustrated. You grieve as you bear witness to a loved one’s decline. You grieve for the life you are no longer living. Guilt follows hard on the heels of anger and resentment.
Just as overwhelming is the never-ending “To Do” list. Most caregivers face a landscape of too little support at too high a cost. While improvements are slowly being made, our healthcare system just isn’t set up to deal with those who require long term home care.
What is caregiver burnout?
Enter caregiver burnout. It happens when caregivers try to do more than they are able to do. It’s physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and leaves the caregiver vulnerable to illness. The chronic stresses of being a caregiver can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and a compromised immune system.
Caregivers are often so preoccupied with the needs of their loved ones that they fail to recognize their own warning signals. Caregiver burnout symptoms are similar to those for anxiety and depression and include:
- Sleep disturbances and fatigue
- Lost interest in once-pleasurable things
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both
- Getting sick more often
- Withdrawal from social contacts
- Persistent feelings of worry, hopelessness and sadness
- Low self-esteem
- Overreacting to minor issues
- Decreased productivity
- Alcohol or drug abuse
Originally written by,