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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 Emma Rodbro · Updated Jan 26, 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’re a caregiver, you probably take pride in the fact that you take such good 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 can set in. Especially if your elderly loved one has Alzheimer’s disease, different types of dementia, or mobility challenges.

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.

Everyone who takes care of a loved one whose health is declining needs support and assistance from family and friends, or caregiver support groups, including online communities and support groups. Being a caregiver does not mean giving up on taking care of oneself. Neglecting one’s own needs for downtime, time outside the home, and fun are 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 one, because 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. Here are some definite signs of caregiver burnout that indicate it’s time to make some changes.

5 Signs of Caregiver Burnout


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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 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 back aches, skin rashes or the flu

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 the 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 be 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.

More Articles

Explore respite care and other caregiver resources to find the support you need:

What is Respite Care?Caregiver Respite Grants for Elderly Loved OnesFighting Over Caregiving: Stories from the Trenches
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written by:
Emma Rodbro

Emma Rodbro

Emma Rodbro is Seniorly’s Head of Product Experience & Operations. Emma’s passion for reducing social isolation in aging populations was undoubtedly influenced by her own experience as a teenager and spending time with her grandfather. Emma went on to earn her Bachelor or Arts in Public Health and Sociology from Brown University and holds a Master’s of Social Work from the University of California, Berkeley. When she’s not at work, Emma is a volunteer at DOROT, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the challenges of an aging population.

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