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Avoiding Caretaker Burnout

Aug 28, 2017 by

It’s a noble thing to do, even if it may feel like an obligation: taking care of elderly parents or relatives. We all get older, and only the luckiest among us won’t need some a little help managing life in our later years. But you should be aware of something called “caretaker burnout,” which is when the caretaker gets so overwhelmed by their responsibilities that they stop being able to cope. The burnout can be physical, mental, or both, but it’s often accompanied by a sense that you just can’t sustain your current level of activity and something’s got to give.

Burnout isn’t good for the caretaker or the person being cared for. It can lead to a reduced standard of care, which could be dangerous.

The hardest part of caretaker burnout is the sense that you can’t ask for help, that doing so is a sign of weakness. If you promised to take care of your parents in their golden years, you may even feel a sense of panic. But you can’t expect yourself to do everything alone. First things first, call your parent’s doctor. Experienced doctors have seen this time and time again, and they will know how to connect you with local resources to lessen the load. You may be eligible for respite care that gives you a much-needed break. You aren’t abandoning your relative; you’re just taking a breather. You can’t be expected to take care of anyone else if you aren’t first seeing to your own needs. Outside of your doctor, look for local councils on aging or senior advisory groups. They may also have ideas to help you out while maintaining or even increasing your relative’s standard of care.

After you’ve made some calls, look around the house where you care for your relative. There are probably some areas where you could improve safety and comfort by making some changes. There’s a good chance you’re having to help your relative use the bathroom or take a bath. In that case, look into raised toilet seats and walk in bathtubs. Both are designed to assist those with limited mobility. If the house has a second floor, a stair lift may be a safer option than trying to help your relative up and down dangerous stairs multiple times a day. One of the hardest parts of getting older is the feeling that your personal independence is slipping away with each passing day. The above options could help your relative feel more in control of their life as well.

Finally, there’s a chance that you’ve noticed your relative’s house is in desperate need of some upgrades. As we get older, household maintenance is another thing that becomes harder. Paint starts peeling, carpet starts fraying, and pipes start leaking. If the idea of trying to take care of those things while you also take care of a person exhausts you, then please call in some outside assistance. From house painters to carpet installation experts, there are plenty of professionals who would love to help you and your relative make the place brighter and neater.

Watching your parent decline as they age is one of the toughest things you’ll ever see. It happens to most of us at one point or another. But if you’re taking on too much, your relative may very well pick up on the stress you’re carrying, which could in turn make them stressed as well. That’s not a good idea for either of you. Look for signs of fatigue and exhaustion, especially ones that linger, and you can nip caretaker burnout in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue.

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