Reducing Family Caregiver Stress

May 9, 2024

As your loved one gets older, you might find yourself with a growing list of caregiver duties. Whether you are picking up medications for your mom, driving your dad to his doctor’s appointment, or simply calling them to encourage them to get out for a walk, you are now a family caregiver. Welcome to the club – with about 53 million adults caring for aging parents or loved ones, you’re in good company.

 

Family caregiving can be overwhelming, and it often sneaks up on us. Suddenly we are faced with not only keeping up with professional obligations and running our teen to soccer practice after school, but also helping an aging parent with household tasks or ensuring they have someone to visit with today.

 

If you’re a family caregiver living thousands of miles away or simply down the block, you must have a plan to care for yourself as well as your loved one.

 

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Caregiver burnout, sometimes called caregiver stress or caregiver fatigue, is a term used to describe the physical and emotional symptoms that follow exhaustion due to caregiving. Caregiver burnout can happen to the new parents of a newborn or adults in the throes of parenthood, but it is most common for adults who are caring for a partner or aging parent.

 

Symptoms of caregiver burnout can include:

  • Sleep disruptions, including sleeping too much or too little, as well as insomnia
  • Weight changes, including weight loss and weight gain
  • Irritability, general grumpiness, or having a “short fuse”
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Becoming socially isolated
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased immune response

 

Caregiver burnout can be quite dangerous for the caregiver and their aging parent. For example, elder abuse rates rise as caregiver stress increases. Similarly, if a family caregiver gets sick and ends up in the hospital, there is no one left to take care of the aging parent.

 

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver fatigue does not have to be inevitable. In fact, you can choose to build habits into your routine that can help you prevent it in the short and long term. Here are a few practices to start now, even if you are just beginning to take on caregiver responsibilities:

  • Schedule rest time in your calendar, in ink. You can delegate your responsibilities during this time to another family member or you can invest in support from a home care agency that offers respite care.
  • Ensure you are getting enough sleep. Prioritize a healthy bedtime routine so that your body is cued to slow down and get ready for sleep.
  • Drink plenty of water and choose water over sugary drinks like soda. 
  • Skip caffeine when possible, choosing only one to two cups of coffee in the morning.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Talk to your doctor about your new caregiving role. Bring it up at every appointment you have so that you can talk about any emotional or physical changes you might be seeing that could be related to that role.
  • Consider working with a counselor on a weekly or monthly basis. Choose one that has experience working with adult children who are family caregivers.
  • Don’t take on all responsibilities. Delegate to your siblings, other family members, and neighbors. Ask for exactly what you need so they know how they can help.

 

Most importantly, find a way to check in with yourself a few times each day. This might be a quick journal entry with your morning cup of coffee or a 5-minute meditation before bed. You can use this time to see if you are starting to feel sick, fatigued, stressed, or impatient. Then, find the help you need that week to take some of the strain and responsibilities off your plate.

 

Use Technology

Family caregivers can also leverage technology and other resources in order to keep their loved ones safe and cared for.

  • Use a caregiver app to keep family members informed of how your loved one is doing and what you need help with this week
  • Invest in a medical alert device that gives you peace of mind to know your loved one can reach emergency responders in case of a fall or other medical crisis
  • Use an automatic pill dispenser to ensure your loved one is receiving the correct medications at the correct time of day
  • Use a personal assistant, like a Google Home or Alexa, to provide alarms or check-ins for your loved one

 

In addition to technology, seek out support from your loved one’s city. Most towns have a dedicated senior service department that can point you to resources like Meals on Wheels, handyman services, and even vetted volunteers who can visit on a regular basis.

 

Your biggest responsibility as a family caregiver is to take care of yourself first.

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