Avoiding Caregiver Burnout

By Bernard A. Krooks, Certified Elder Law Attorney®

Being a caregiver for an elderly family member can be very demanding, both physically and emotionally. It is no surprise that many caregivers experience burnout. Caregivers often feel pressure to assume additional responsibility as time passes and neglect to take time out for themselves. Here are a few key tips to avoid burnout:

Ask Family Members for Help

When an aging parent needs care, one adult child may assume a greater share of the work than their adult siblings. This may be intentional or unavoidable, if other siblings work full-time or live farther away from the parent. Often, the imbalance is not acknowledged or even understood. It may be that those siblings who are not the primary caregivers simply do not know how much work is involved. In this situation, it can be important to have a family meeting.  The primary caregiver can use such a gathering to inform other family members of the details of their parent’s condition, and what is needed in terms of care. Once the caregiver explains in detail the amount of work that is involved, a perfect opportunity arises to ask other family members to contribute and help.

Try a Support Group

Being a caregiver can be very isolating. One may spend a great deal of time alone with the elderly parent.  Other relatives and friends, who are not caregivers, may not appreciate the amount of work involved and may not understand the caregiver’s frustration or exhaustion. Getting together in a support group is an excellent way to share resources and talk about day-to-day experiences with other caregivers in similar circumstances. Caregivers may be reluctant to attend a support group because of time constraints or because they downplay the significance of their work. However, most people have a positive experience when they attend support groups.                                                                                                   

Use Respite Care

Many people are working as unpaid caregivers for an elderly family member in part because professional in-home assistance can be unaffordable. Respite care can be a good alternative to full- or part-time help, providing planned, short-term breaks for the caregiver. For example, a break of a few hours once a week can have a beneficial effect on the caregiver’s emotional well-being. When making choices about care, families sometimes look at the option of hiring in-home care as an “all or nothing” undertaking, but respite care can be the perfect in-between alternative, allowing a family member to provide primary care, but take necessary breaks.

These tips have a common theme: one should not face these challenges alone. Instead, get help from family members and from community resources.

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