An excerpt from A Caregiver’s Love Story.
Caregiver burnout is a real and serious problem for those caregivers in for the long haul. It is a serious issue if you go to bed each night in anguish over the next day’s chores and wake up each morning with a feeling of heaviness and a reluctance to get going. Caregivers who feel nothing but dread at the next day’s chores begin to hate their daily caregiving routines, even if they still love the person for whom they’re caring. There are no longer vacations or long weekends for the caregiver to take a break and care for themselves unless some respite is added to the care plan for the care recipient.
Without seeking help through counseling or perhaps accepting suggestions for changing the routine of their caregiving day, it is likely these caregivers will struggle unhappily month after month until the day that they simply can no longer physically or emotionally force themselves out of bed anymore.
Emotional outbursts may happen that are aimed at the person they are caring for, which could indicate “compassion fatigue.” Expressing emotions that come out as yelling at the person who is ill or disabled can lead to the caregiver being guilt-ridden by losing control of their emotions and saying and doing harmful things, they way too often do no mean. The caregiver role can ruin a loving relationship as the burden becomes too much.
These caregivers need to find an alternative means for ensuring their loved one is well cared for so they can take a break. When the caregiver experiences depression and is acting out in uncommon ways, the current care plan or schedule must be reexamined to prevent a toxic environment for both caregiver and recipient. Don’t ignore your own exhaustion. Eat right and take your medications as prescribed, as well as any vitamins or supplements your doctor recommends.
Most caregivers get thrown into the caregiving position with no experience and no expectation of how long they will be in that role and what they will need to do to keep their loved one safe, fed, warm, and on the correct medications. Caregiving can start out with just the basic needs of helping someone dress or getting them meals, but the role can expand exponentially as someone’s illness goes on for perhaps years.
Caregiving is a marathon. The family member who accepts this role blindly is like the misguided runner in flip flops and a skirt with no clue about how far they must run. They are likely to stumble or fall at the beginning of the race because they are ill-prepared. A caregiver stumbling can lead to dire consequences for themselves and the person they are caring for. Because this marathon may not have an end in sight, it is important that caregiver burden and rising stress levels not be ignored. Marathon runners are constantly assessing their body for muscle cramps or strained ligaments that could lead to the end of the race for them. These symptoms cannot be ignored, or they could lead to serious injury. Caregivers, too, need to be on alert for physical symptoms, such as headaches and neck and back pain, and emotional symptoms, such as persistent irritability and hopelessness, either of which could undermine their capacity to give care.
Ignoring burnout can come with some long-term consequences, such as health issues for the caregiver that can lead to their early death or the need for care themselves. The heavy burden of caregiving can gradually overwhelm even the healthiest, most devoted, and best-prepared individuals. This is especially true for sole caregivers who may not have any outside support to fulfill their needs as well as the person being cared for.
Support groups and counseling can be very useful in helping the caregiver cope with the everyday stress of caregiving and caring for themselves as well. We have several groups here in my community, and many are done in the “zoom” format on the computer since it is hard for many caregivers to leave their homes.
So, are you a caregiver? If the title fits, wear this it proudly, no matter what your caregiver role is. You might be providing hands-on care or could be an advocate for a vulnerable person. Whatever your job is, you are a caregiver. Be honest with yourself and accept the new relationship with your loved one. Learn to delegate some of the caregiver duties and free up some time for your own emotional support. Focus on the respect you deserve as a caregiver as well as the respect the care recipient deserves.
Dying with dignity is important for all of us, and you as a caregiver should be proud and feel honored to have assisted your loved one through a gentle, and dignified life and eventually a dignified death.
Nancie Wiseman Attwater is the author of A Caregiver’s Love Story.
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