It’s estimated that 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. Naturally, this means there are as many people providing care, if not more. Many of those caregivers are family members.
As the number of people providing care grows, there’s more talk about caregiver fatigue. If you provide care for a loved one, you may experience stress and exhaustion.
It’s important for caregivers to remember that taking time to care for themselves is not selfish. In fact, it’s very important.
This guide will help you understand why caregivers burn out. It will help you recognize caregiver burnout symptoms. It will also give you some tips to take care of yourself so you can keep taking care of your loved ones.
What Is Caregiver Fatigue?
Providing care for a patient living with Alzheimer’s or dementia is often demanding. Depending on the patient, you may need to provide 24/7 care. As the disease progresses, you’ll likely find you need to offer more intensive support.
This can be especially draining if the patient is also close to the caretaker. If you’re caring for a parent or another relative, the relationship can become strained. It’s also difficult to see a person you love suffer from these conditions.
The longer you provide care, the more likely you are to experience the symptoms associated with burnout.
Caregiver stress is caused by the tasks of providing immersive care on a day to day basis. An Alzheimer’s caregiver may not feel they can take breaks or vacations. They continue to provide care uninterrupted, often for years.
This situation leads to exhaustion and other symptoms of burnout. It’s caused by elevated stress levels over an extended period of time.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of caregiver burnout develop over a period of time. They’re often subtle, and many people don’t recognize them at first.
Depression is the most common symptom of caretaker burnout. Exhaustion is another common symptom.
Other symptoms include:
- Aggression, toward the patient or others
- Digestive problems, such as stomach aches
- A sense of hopelessness
- A loss of interest in activities you enjoy
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling as though caregiving has taken over your life
Caregivers may also experience guilt. They might worry they’re not providing enough care for their loved ones. They also tend to neglect their own health and needs.
One thing that tends to make burnout worse for caregivers is that they’re often grieving as well. You may feel grief over your loved one’s condition and declining health.
The Effects of Caregiver Fatigue
Caregiver stress can take its toll. Since caregivers neglect their own health and needs, they may become ill themselves. In some cases, the condition lowers a caregiver’s life expectancy.
The condition also interferes with the caregiver’s ability to provide the best possible care to their loved ones. Caregivers may be unable to deal with their loved ones’ needs. This can then feed back into feelings of guilt, increasing the caregiver’s stress.
Self-Care is Good Care
Many caregivers want to provide excellent care to their loved ones. They may believe that to do that, they need to be constantly available. They may make sacrifices, such as giving up activities they love, to take care of the patient.
The first step to providing excellent care is to take care of yourself.
That’s why self-care is so important for an Alzheimer’s caretaker. By taking care of your own needs, you’ll be in a better position to help your loved one.
Consider how you feel when you’re tired. Many people are more irritable when they’re tired. They might get angry over things that normally don’t bother them.
People also don’t do their best work when they’re tired. They might still get things done, but it’s often not done to the very best of their abilities.
Now think about how you perform when you’re well-rested. You’re happier and much less likely to get annoyed about small things. You’ll also be more ready to tackle even the toughest of tasks.
You can see how caregiver stress and fatigue robs both you and your loved one. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be in a better position to care for them too.
Self-Care Tips for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers
It can be difficult to make self-care important. These tips can make it easier to prioritize. If you adopt even a couple of them, you’ll lower the chances of developing caregiver fatigue.
The most important thing to do is make sure you take breaks. If you can, ask another trusted caregiver to trade “shifts” with you. Don’t feel guilty about taking a day off or even a vacation.
You should also make an effort to take care of your own health. This can include things like:
- Making sure you get enough sleep
- Eating a balanced diet
- Getting regular exercise
Even going for a stroll at lunchtime or in the evening can help you bust stress and feel better.
Caregivers also need to look at their emotional well-being. You might want to:
- Make time for activities you love
- Join a dementia caregiver support group
- Connect with friends and family who understand
- Take part in activities such as yoga or meditation, which encourage mindfulness
If you feel isolated or overwhelmed, a caregiver support group can help. The other members understand what you’re going through. They can offer advice and emotional support.
Reach out for Help
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia is a demanding task. For many, there comes a time when caregiving becomes overwhelming and leads to caregiver fatigue.
There are many resources you can call on for support. You don’t need to provide care all by yourself. Respite care, short-term nursing homes, and other resources can help.
Remember that self-care is as important as any of the other caretaking you do. If you need help providing the right care for your loved one, get in touch today.