Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009 | 1 a.m.
Over the years, while responding to medical emergencies, I've encountered many people who are caregivers. That is to say they are in charge of caring for another individual, mostly family members, spouse, siblings, elderly, parent, or child, who are mentally or physically unable to care for themselves. This situation is more prevalent in today's society due to the aging population of baby boomers. In fact, the national family care givers association estimates more than 50 million care givers in this country.
It is a stressful job to care for people who are afflicted with any number of chronic ailments or illnesses such as Alzheimer's.
Caregivers' burnout is a state of physical, emotional, mental, and financial exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude- from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.
Burnout can occur when caregivers don't get the help they need, or if they try to do more than they are able either physically or financially. Caregivers who are "burned out" may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. They include:
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones.
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
- Feeling blue, irritable, hopeless and helpless.
- Changes in appetite, weight, or both.
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Getting sick more often.
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring.
- Emotional and physical exhaustion.
Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver's body, mind and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and hopelessness — and, ultimately, burnout. Other factors that can lead to caregiver burnout include:
- Role confusion. It can be difficult for a person to separate the role as caregiver from the role as spouse, lover, child or friend.
- Unrealistic expectations. Many caregivers expect their involvement to have a positive effect on the health and happiness of the patient. This may be unrealistic for patients suffering from a progressive disease, such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
- Lack of control. Many caregivers become frustrated by a lack of money, resources, and skills to effectively plan, manage, and organize their loved one's care.
- Unreasonable demands. Some caregivers place unreasonable burdens upon themselves, in part because they see providing care as their exclusive responsibility.
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent caregiver burnout:
- Find someone you trust, such as a friend, co-worker, or neighbor, to talk to about your feeling and frustrations.
- Set realistic goals, accept that you may need help with care giving, and turn to others for help with some tasks.
- Be realistic about your loved one's disease, especially if it is a progressive disease such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's.
- Don't forget about yourself because you're too busy caring for someone else. Set aside time for yourself, even if it's just an hour or two. Remember, taking care of yourself is not a luxury. It is an absolute necessity for caregivers.
- Talk to a professional. Most therapists, social workers, and clergy members are trained to counsel individuals dealing with a wide range of physical and emotional issues.
- Take advantage of respite care services. Respite care provides break for caregivers. This can range from a few house of in-home care to a short stay in a nursing home or assisted-living facility.
- Know your limits and do a reality check of your personal situation. Recognize and accept your potential for caregivers burnout.
- Educate yourself. The more you know about the illness, the more effective you will be in caring for the person with the illness.
- Develop new tools for coping. Remember to lighten up and accentuate the positive. Use humor to help deal with everyday stresses.
- Stay healthy by eating right and getting plenty of exercise and sleep.
- Accept your feelings. Having negative feelings, such as frustration or anger, about your responsibilities or the person for whom you are caring is normal.
- Join a caregiver support group. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others in the save situation can you help you manage stress, locate helpful resources, and reduce feelings of frustration and isolation. The internet is a great tool for finding such support groups.
Finally, local help can be found at the Boulder City Senior Center.
Russell Way, the executive director, encourages people who find themselves in their stressful situation to come in and talk with him. If you have further questions contact the Boulder City Fire Department at 293-9228.
Bill Wilson, a firefighter-paramedic for the Boulder City Fire Department, can be reached at 293-9228.