Did you know that there is an actual term for the burnout that many senior caregivers experience? Well-known in the healthcare community are the terms caregiver syndrome, caregiver fatigue and caregiver stress. Although these terms are used interchangeably, the condition is not yet outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
No matter what term is used, symptoms of caregiver stress are real and can include many physical and psychological issues. These include insomnia, depression, fatigue, emotional eating, lowered immunity, more risk of chronic illness like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other ailments. Often times, the health of a caregiver can too easily be ignored for long periods of time. It is important to recognize the symptoms and to seek help.
Assistance for senior caregivers is available in a variety of ways. Though it may feel difficult to ask for help, there are many programs and services available for the purpose of helping to relieve caregiver stress. Accepting help through others via respite care, transportation services, meal prep, social activities and other community services can reduce the burden and stress that caregivers experience.
Respite to the Rescue
One of the most effective ways to receive relief from caregiver stress is to seek out respite care. What is respite care? According to the Access to Respite Care and Help (ARCH) National Respite Network and Resource Organization, “Respite is a service that provides a temporary break between the family caregiver and the care recipient. Respite will be most helpful if you use it before you become exhausted, isolated and overwhelmed by your responsibilities.”
There are different types of respite care in-home and outside the home, these can include:
- A community organization
- A faith-based Agency or Organization
- An adult day care program
- A hospital or healthcare facility
- A nursing home
- An assisted-living facility
- An adult foster home
- Family, friends, or neighbors
To discover respite options by area, search our respite care directory.
Seek Support and Resources in the Community
According to the Administration for Community Living (ACL), studies have shown that coordinated support services can reduce caregiver depression, anxiety, and stress, and enable caregivers to provide care longer, which avoids or delays the need for costly institutional care.
There are training programs, educational resources, support groups, respite resources and other programs beneficial to both caregivers and those receiving care. Programs like the National Family Caregiver Support Program can help caregivers receive the training, counseling and support resources they need.
A great resource for reducing stress for senior caregivers caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is the Resources for Enhancing Alzheimer’s Caregiver Health (REACH) Program. The REACH program is offered in many areas and can be found online at the Alzheimer’s Association. As part of this program, for the duration of six months, a dementia care specialist meets with the caregiver to address issues affecting caregiver well-being, such as depression, self-care and health, social support, safety and problem behaviors. Using a one-on-one approach to caregiver support, this program helps to optimize caregiver health and teach caregivers about Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.
“We know from research that caregivers who are supported throughout their caregiving journey are more likely to provide quality, safe care to their loved one, resulting in an improved quality of life for both. We also know that those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease suffer the highest rates of burden and depression. Evidence-based caregiver programs, such as REACH, have shown positive results in improving the health and well-being of caregivers," says Laura J. Bauer from the Rosalyn Carter Institute for Caregiving.
Another way to combat caregiver stress is to improve caregiver morale through gratitude. Seniors receiving care, and their family and friends, can provide positive comments and feedback for the caregiver in-person or via emerging web-based platforms. Receiving gratitude can help the caregiver to feel appreciated and help alleviate negative emotions resulting from caregiver fatigue. According to a piece titled Hospice Caregiver Burnout, “The concept is simple: if the reward for a healthcare worker, and in our case a hospice caregiver, is derived from helping people through hard times, then the best remedy for burnout or emotional exhaustion is gratitude from those who were helped.”
In addition to receiving gratitude, community support and resources, it is important for caregivers to stay connected to their own family and friends. Many caregivers can feel isolated when consumed with caregiving. Regularly talking with a friend, family member, clergy, therapist, or fellow caregivers can offer helpful support and understanding.
Self-Care is a Win-Win
Paying attention to self-care efforts can make a difference in the overall wellbeing of the caregiver and the quality of care that is provided to the person receiving care. Practicing daily healthy habits is a win-win. These habits can include getting adequate rest, regular exercise, meditation and breathing practices, reducing alcohol intake, eliminating smoking, adopting a positive outlook and participating in enjoyable hobbies or social outings.
One of the most prevalent conditions caregivers experience is that of depression. Many may not even realize they are depressed. Good self-care practices can help lessen the effects of caregiver depression. It is important for caregivers to realize that symptoms of depression are common among caregivers and that they are not alone. According to an article from the Family Caregiver Alliance, “The more severe the case of dementia, the more likely the caregiver is to experience depression.”
Exercising, even in short spurts like a 10 minute walk outside can offer a change of scenery, fresh air and help to improve a stressed or blue mood. In addition, listening to uplifting music, a favorite podcast or audiobook during a break or a walk can be a welcome distraction from overwhelm or stressful thoughts. Studies show that regular exercise can lessen the symptoms associated with depression and promote better sleep which is also a factor of good self-care.
Equally as important as respite care and other support resources in reducing the effects of caregiver stress and fatigue, self-care should not be overlooked. Once caregivers recognize there are many ways to reduce the feelings of burden, overwhelm, depression, anxiety and stress associated with the daily responsibility of caregiving, they can begin to explore the variety of community tools, self-care habits, and service options available.