Aging is inevitable, but the changes it brings can be unexpected and distressing to both the aging individual and their loved ones. While they may be loath to admit it, most older adults will need assistance with some of the daily tasks that they once took for granted.
From getting dressed to eating and running errands, activities may not come as easily as they used to. Many families choose to assist their loved ones by becoming occasional or regular caregivers. However, it is quite common to fail to recognize signs of caregiver burnout until they have already been struggling (or failing) for some time.
This can contribute to “caregiver burnout”. Caregiver support groups can help families overcome this challenge, but in order to take advantage of this resource or other resources, it is useful to be able to identify burnout in its many forms.
Here is an overview of what caregiver burnout is, including the most common symptoms that people experience. Remember—caregiver burnout is a frequent occurrence, and the feelings of guilt, resentment, and fatigue that you are experiencing are not a reflection of who you are. Help is available.
Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout
You may be able to take full advantage of support systems such as caregiver meeting groups, if you are suffering from burnout—a cluster of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms indicating that you are overworking yourself. Some of the most notable symptoms that indicate you may be suffering from caregiver burnout include:
1. Loss of Interest
When individuals are focused on caring for an aging relative, their own routines and preferences often take second fiddle to the more pressing needs of their family members. Over time, caregivers may begin to lose interest in things that once made them excited or happy.
Many people attribute this change in attitude to their preoccupation with other tasks, but in reality, it can often be a symptom of depression or anxiety due to stress and a lack of rest. If you are losing interest in things that once inspired you, you may be suffering from caregiver burnout.
2. Change in Routines and Habits
Similarly, you may find that making time for your old habits is harder than before—and odds are, it is, because more of your day is taken up with new caregiving tasks. Be vigilant for significant shifts in the time you allocate for yourself and your interests vs. those of your aging relative.
Sacrificing your own routines in favor of caring for your family member may seem like a loving thing to do, but remember that caring for yourself and maintaining your own sense of identity is important.
Your routines and preferences must be kept in balance with the caregiving tasks helping your relatives. If you have let your own cherished routines or comforting habits fall by the wayside, and are feeling stressed or even resentful, you may be burning-out or burnt-out.
3. Mood Swings or Unwanted Responses
A classic sign of burnout from caring for an elderly parent is experiencing mood swings. You may find yourself responding harshly to people you love, losing patience quickly, and shifting with no warning from anger to sadness, and back again.
Watching the gradual decline of your family member is an emotionally fraught time, but these changes often indicate burnout due to your inability to carve out time to care for yourself. Continuing on with no changes will only worsen your burnout, and lead to more anxiety, depression, and even resentment.
More Frequent Sickness or Restlessness
As you dedicate more of your time to your loved one’s care, eating healthful meals, finding the time to exercise, and sleeping well can become more difficult. It’s easy to put these priorities off as something you’ll get better at “soon.”
However, the constant stress and energy expenditure of caregiving can leave your immune system and central nervous system worn down. You may also be suffering from burnout if you get sick more frequently or find that your sleeping patterns are unusual—either much more than before or much less.
Feelings of Guilt or Regret
One of the most difficult elements of elderly caregiving to talk about is the emotional aspect. Few are willing to admit that they feel resentment or regret over caring for someone they love, nor are they comfortable with the feelings of guilt that arise because they are experiencing such resentment.
However, these reactions are normal, and they do not reflect negatively on your love and care for your family member. If you are experiencing strong negative feelings, you are likely suffering from caregiver burnout that will limit your ability to take care of yourself as well as your loved one..
Learn About Local Resources to Help You Overcome Burnout
If you believe that you might be experiencing caregiver burnout, you’ve already taken one of the most important steps—self-reflection. The good news is that there is help available.
From caregiver support groups to in-home visiting care and more, be sure to explore your local resources to provide your family members with the help they need while preserving your own life and well-being.
The team at Shepherd’s Center of Northern Virginia (SCNOVA) helps older adults age in place by connecting families with the community services they need to thrive, and has an active Caregiver Support Group you can contact if your loved one is in our service territory.
Contact SCNOVA to learn more about the opportunities available in your area, both in service to yourself and your aging family member.