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What is Caregiver Burnout?

What is caregiver burnout? Seniorly explains how elder care burnout can have lasting effects on even the most dedicated caregiver and their family.

By Marlena del Hierro Updated on Jun 27, 2023

Caregiver burnout is defined by Cleveland Clinic as “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude, from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.”

If you have caregiving responsibilities, you probably take pride in the fact that you take such great care of your aging loved one on your own. Maybe you’re an empty nester or a retiree, and this is what you want to do.

But even with the best intentions, caregiver burnout, or caregiver stress, can set in. Especially if your elderly loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, different types of dementia, or mobility challenges.

Caregiver burnout: a deeper look

Caregiver burnout can creep up slowly without a caregiver realizing it. Caregivers might start to feel the stress of caring for someone else full-time, and it can utterly drain their emotional and spiritual well-being.

This burnout is very common among many caregivers and should be addressed holistically and with compassion. Joining a support group, or multiple support groups, is one way of taking care of yourself. In fact, there are many caregiver support services available. Let's take a deeper look.

Self-care to remedy burnout

Everyone who takes care of a loved one whose health is declining needs support and assistance from family and friends. It's even more helpful to have caregiver support groups, including online communities and support groups, so that you have been that can relate to you.

Being a caregiver does not mean giving up on taking care of oneself. In fact, your mental health is just as important! Neglecting one’s own needs for downtime, time outside the home, and fun is a surefire recipe for caregiver burnout. Of course, taking time for these activities can lead to feelings of guilt.

But taking care of yourself is also a way of taking care of your loved ones since they depend on you to be at your best every day. Don’t feel guilty or wait until you feel burned out to begin taking care of yourself. Emotional and physical exhaustion does take a toll, after all.

Here are some definite signs of caregiver burnout that indicate it’s time to make some changes.

5 signs of caregiver burnout for family members

If you’re a caregiver for a family member or someone else and can relate to any of the signs below, you may be experiencing burnout and should seek support.

  • Wild emotional swings: If you feel happy one minute, and then sad and helpless the next, you’re probably experiencing burnout. As you ride the emotional roller coaster of caregiving, you can swing from joy to anger. Mood swings are a definite sign that something’s wrong.
  • Constantly sick: You catch every bug that comes your way. Stress can suppress your immune system and can cause you to constantly become sick. If you are getting sick more often and staying sick longer than you used to, your body is trying to tell you something. Listen up.
  • Short temper: You’re snapping at everyone. When you feel helpless and overwhelmed, you’re more likely to overreact to things people do or don’t do. This is a good sign you may need a time-out.
  • No physical activity: You know you should exercise, but you don’t make the time. Caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to find a way to keep yourself in shape if you’re going to make it through every mile along the way.
  • Losing interest in socialization: You can’t remember the last time you met a friend for dinner or a movie. Caregivers — motivated by a mix of love, loyalty, and a dash of guilt — rarely allow themselves an evening out. Take some time to nourish your soul and catch up with people who mean a lot to you. Socialization is important for seniors, but it’s also important for caregivers too.

Other common symptoms for family caregivers

  • Other symptoms of caregiver burnout include but are not limited to:
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Sad all the time
  • Anxious and fearful
  • Lethargic and low energy
  • Guilty and worthless
  • Depressed for two weeks or more
  • Needing alcohol to relax
  • Lingering backaches, skin rashes, or the flu

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How to Treat Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout can sometimes reach a level where the health and safety of either you or your elderly loved one are at risk. This is a point when it’s vital to take a break.

Learning how to recognize signs of caregiver burnout before it goes too far is vital to alleviating stress and finding the proper support.

Consider Respite Care

Caregivers can try short-term respite care with the help of senior housing communities. This will give them a chance to relax and catch their breath.

If you’re a caregiver and decide on respite care, assure your loved one that they will be well-taken care of while you recoup your reserves. Your loved one may even appreciate the change of scenery and enjoy some socialization with people their own age for a period of time.

A respite stay in short-term senior housing may be necessary if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and depressed. As a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself and take a break when needed.

Focus on Your Own Health and Wellness

If you’re a caregiver or have a family member who is a caregiver, encouraging them to take care of themselves and engage in wellness activities can make a huge difference. This could include activities such as:

  • Taking frequent, short walks
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating well
  • Finding time for relaxation and meditation
  • Massage therapy

While there are many forms of support for caregivers, recognizing the signs of caregiver burnout is the first step toward finding the right level of support and helping the caregiver take care of themself.

Family caregiver alliance: caretaking starts with you

All in all, caregiver burnout is a very real and challenging experience that demands our attention. Caring for others, while fulfilling, can also take a toll on our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It's crucial that we recognize the signs of burnout and take proactive steps to prevent and address it.

It's important to remember that you're not alone in this journey. Reach out for help, seek support, and utilize available resources in your community.

written by:
Marlena del Hierro

Marlena del Hierro is Vice President of Partnerships and Seniorly’s Lead Gerontologist. Marlena earned her Master of Arts degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Development from California State University. She also serves in an advisory capacity for Jukebox Health. As Seniorly’s first employee, Marlena is a vocal advocate for evolving the aging paradigm, and is a frequent contributor to public discussions about aging. She has served as a resource for media outlets like WGBH, FOX News, CNBC and the Today Show.

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View other articles written by Marlena

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