Five Signs of Caregiver Burnout

As a Geriatric Care Manager, I have seen caregiver “burnout” and the toll that caregiving can have on a loved one. When I am working alongside a family member who shoulders a big share of the care for an older adult someone with special needs. Quite often, however, caregivers try to hide what they are feeling as a response to the stress of their physical and emotional workload. They may fear that admitting burnout is akin to suggesting they do not love the person to whom they are offering the care. Not true.

Having talked about the stress of caregiving, I think it is really important to distinguish stress from burnout. Experiencing stress is not the same as burnout, although stress that is not relieved can certainly lead to burnout. Let me give you a few contrasts and then some signs to look for in a family member who is the caregiver or even in yourself if you have taken on the role of caregiver:

  1. You are stressed if you are “hyper-involved,” but burnout encourages disengagement from others just when you and your loved one would benefit most from others who could help.
  2. You are stressed if you feel in emotional overdrive, but burnout makes all your emotions duller and your own needs for emotional support more acute.
  3. Stress can lead to anxiety about doing enough, but burnout more typically results in depression which again would instead benefit from being engaged with others or having someone in whom you can confide.
  4. Stress can sap your energy, but burnout depletes your motivation or your hope so you can begin to see where the depression can arise.
  5. Stress may induce a sense of urgency about all that you have to do, but burnout results in the detachment of depression and all the other cascading issues I have mentioned.

I have a client who is a husband caring for his spouse who has dementia. It is exhausting work, he admits, but he is quite dedicated to her. His response is to take daily breaks to workout at a fitness center in his residence. It gives him a chance to recharge as well as the physical capacity to do the next shift. One of my associates describes it as “taking care of yourself so that you are better able to care for another.”

Check out some of the recommendations of a group called “HelpGuide”. They sum up their approach simply in three R’s:

  • Recognize-identify the symptoms
  • Reverse-address the stress and/or seek help
  • Resilience-take care of your emotional and physical well-being.