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Caring for an Elderly Parent – Caregiver Burnout

Written by: Janet Fluker, M.Ed., M.S.
Caring for an Elderly Parent – Caregiver Burnout

For most adult children, being able to care for an elderly parent is a privilege. Knowing that you are giving back to someone who has given so much to you can be rewarding. However, if you have limited time and resources, it can also be overwhelming. The pressure of being a caregiver can cause mental, emotional, and physical fatigue over time. A state of exhaustion called caregiver burnout can affect all areas of your life if not recognized and addressed.

What are the symptoms of caregiver burnout?

  1. Increased anxiety – always worrying about the well-being of your parent or if you are doing enough.
  2. Being easily frustrated, irritated, or angered over small things – you might notice that you are increasingly getting upset over things that didn’t used to bother you. Other family members may notice this as well.
  3. Lack of energy – being a caregiver takes a lot of energy, and you may find you don’t have any left over for your own life.
  4. Sudden weight gain or loss – you may be soothing yourself with food or not eating regularly.
  5. Sleep problems – you might be wanting to sleep more than usual as an escape or might have trouble sleeping due to constant worry.
  6. Lost interest in activities you previously enjoyed – this can easily happen when you dedicate most of your time to caring for your elderly parent but neglect to take care of your own needs.
  7. Feelings of hopelessness – constant caregiving can lead to depression, a feeling that the work never ends, especially as your loved one deteriorates.
  8. Increased illness – constant stress can make you more susceptible to illness.

How can you deal with caregiver burnout?

  1. Get respite – your care plan should include days where your elderly parent receives respite care so that you can take a break. You need time to de-stress and take care of your own needs.
  2. Find help – share caregiving with other family members or reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging. Alert your church community and ask them for resources they are aware of.
  3. Establish boundaries – sometimes your elderly parent may have demands that seem unreasonable. Turn them down so that you can have the energy for the caregiving that is necessary.
  4. Get organized – managing your own life (and maybe your children’s) and your parent’s needs is a lot to manage! Make lists, prioritize your work and get into a daily routine. Ask members of your household to pitch in more than usual during this stressful time.
  5. Acknowledge your limitations – remember that you can’t control everything, so focus on the things that you can control.
  6. Keep in touch with friends and family – remember that you need your support system now more than ever!
  7. Stay active and don’t neglect your own health – remember that you can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
  8. Consider taking a break from your work – It may be impossible to work and be a caregiver at the same time, so consider using Family Medical Leave to make things easier to manage.

Conclusion:

For most people, being able to take care of their elderly parents is a privilege. If you have limited time and resources, however, the process can be overwhelming.

The emotional effects of caring for an elderly parent my include feelings of depression, fatigue, and anxiety. If you feel that you are heading toward burn out get respite and share your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, clergy, or mental health professional.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you need to take a break from caregiving. Remember that your health is also important and spending time with friends and family and activities you enjoy can help you be re-energized for this important time of life.