Caregiver Stress Syndrome: Symptoms, Risks, and Tips to Reduce Burnout

People take on the task of caregiving for many reasons that range from a feeling of obligation to simply loving and caring for the individual. If you are a caregiver yourself—no matter what the reason you chose to take on this role—you know that caregiving can certainly be rewarding, but there are also many stresses that you are bravely facing. These include overcoming many physical challenges, having to be a source of constant comfort, and being “on the job” 24 hours a day.

We recognize that the role of caregiver is one of compassion and immense responsibility. We also acknowledge the mental, physical, and financial tolls that place an individual at higher risk for experiencing caregiver stress syndrome, also known as “burnout.”

Everyone should understand the challenges of informal caregiving and the impact that caregiver burnout can have on both parties‘ well-being. This guide provides an overview of the caregiver role, the factors that contribute to caregiver burnout and helpful resources for you or a caregiver you know.

Caregiving in the United States

If you are a caregiver, you‘re certainly not alone. You are one of millions of Americans who have stepped up to the role for someone else.

Caregivers can be spouses, partners, relatives, friends, or other persons that have significant personal relationships to the older adult. They provide a broad range of assistance on a regular basis to those suffering from a chronic/disabling condition or other physical/mental health problem. These individuals also may be secondary or primary caregivers and live with, or separately from, the person receiving care.

The majority of caregivers provide help in many aspects of the older adult’s daily routine, such as bathing or performing household chores. They also may assist with medical or nursing tasks, such as injections, tube feedings, and catheter and colostomy care.

For further information on caregiving, here is data collected by the during the period of 2015-2017:

  • 22.3% of adults across the U.S. reported providing care or assistance to a friend or family member in the past 30 days
  • One in three caregivers (31.3%) have provided 20 or more hours per week of care
  • Over half (53.8%) of caregivers in the U.S. have given care or assistance for 24 months or more
  • 10.4% of caregivers reported providing care or assistance to friends or family members with dementia or other cognitive impairment disorder

When it comes to the statistics surrounding mental health, those numbers can also be alarming. Caregiving is physically and emotionally exhausting. As a loved one, you may be responsible for doctors’ appointments, finances, and even maintaining the home, all while keeping your own work-life responsibilities in order.

Because of this workload, your physical and mental wellness become a cause for concern:

  • Over half (53%) of caregivers say that a decline in their health compromises their ability to provide care
  • Over a month-long period, 14.5% of caregivers reported experiencing 14 or more mentally unhealthy days
  • Over a month-long period, 17.6% of caregivers reported experiencing 14 or more physically unhealthy days
  • 36.7% of caregivers report getting insufficient sleep

One in four (25.4%) women are caregivers compared to one in five (18.9%) men. Potentially exacerbating the risk of caregiver burnout for women is the fact that they can experience anxiety and depression at higher rates than men.

What is Caregiver Stress Syndrome?

Caregiver stress syndrome or burnout is defined as a state of emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion that can affect that person‘s ability to give care. After all, serving as a caregiver is highly demanding, making it difficult for the one providing care to tend to their own needs first.

When the demands on a caregiver’s mind and body become too overwhelming, this leads to fatigue, negativity, and sometimes hopelessness; and once the individual begins to feel these effects, it becomes difficult to care for themselves, much less the patient in their charge.

Some common causes of caregiver burnout include:

  • Unmet expectations: Many people think that their care will have a positive effect on the happiness and physical health of the aging parent, but this might not be the case for patients suffering from a progressive conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease
  • Lack of resources: Many people become frustrated by a lack of assistance, money, and skills to effectively manage their loved one’s care
  • Blurred roles: When thrust into the role of caregiver, it can be difficult for a person to separate themselves as caregiver vs. a spouse, child, friend, etc.
  • Unrealistic demands placed on oneself: Some caregivers place burdens upon themselves because they see providing home care as only their responsibility and no one else’s
  • Other factors: Many people simply do not recognize when they are suffering burnout and therefore cannot function effectively—sometimes getting to the point that they even become physically sick themselves

Common Signs of Caregiver Stress Syndrome

Symptoms of caregiver stress can negatively affect both the caregiver and the care recipient. Some symptoms manifest externally and are easy to identify, while others are often internal and not as apparent.

Usually burnt-out caregivers experience:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, tired, sad, or constantly worried
  • Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
  • Losing or gaining weight
  • Becoming easily angry or irritated
  • Having frequent bodily pain, headaches, or other physical problems
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Loss of interest in once-beloved activities

Risks of Caregiver Burnout

If left unaddressed, burnout can have harmful effects for both the caregiver and the patient under their care.

First of all, when a caregiver ignores his or her own needs and experiences burnout, he or she can become less empathetic, impatient, and even argumentative with the person under their care.

Also, if the feelings of burnout lead to more serious levels of anxiety and depression—often highlighted by an increase in alcohol or stimulant use— the caregiver could be mentally or physically impaired, causing risk to the patient.

And finally, symptoms of burnout such as depression, anxiety, and exhaustion often result in a lowered immune system, putting the patient at risk for additional illness and adverse health outcomes.

What Caregivers Must Understand

The stress of caregiving can have a serious impact on your own health as well. If you are a caregiver, you must understand that your own physical and emotional health needs are connected—AND you must tend to both first and foremost before you can manage the demands of caregiving.

We know that this may be difficult to separate because you feel you must keep up with your caregiving responsibilities and obligations—but you’re only human. You need validation of your feelings, emotional support, professional help, and periodic relief from your responsibilities.

Ignoring this may lead to stress and burnout; therefore, the best way to avoid burnout is to get practical and emotional support. Read on for other self-care tips to reduce the health effects of caregiver burnout.

How Can You Reduce Caregiver Burnout?

While the sense of responsibility to care for a loved one is an important part of providing care, compassion fatigue or burnout can result from continued caregiving without emotional support or relief. Here are ways to get relief from the stress of caregiving:

  • Draw on the help of friends, family, and the community
  • Continue participating in hobbies and activities you enjoy (i.e. going out to the movies, spending time with your family, or group fitness classes)
  • Invest time in gathering local resources to learn what you can about the illness
  • Look into meal delivery services, which can take the huge burden of cooking off your plate
  • Get recommendations from healthcare professionals regarding treatments, medications, and
    home adaptations
  • Join a caregiver support group
  • Look into short-term options such as respite care, adult day care, and other temporary health services
  • Look into longer-term options such as nursing homes, assisted living, and memory care

We’re Here For You

We recognize and support the key role that lay caregivers have in performing health care tasks for loved ones; but it may be time to recognize that the care you give can no longer support all of their needs. In those cases, it is best to think of that person as well as your own needs first and begin the search for senior living.

We’re here for you. From the very first time we speak, our goal is a simple one: to provide families with the knowledge to make an informed choice, and to make the entire process as comfortable, smooth, and safe as possible. We want to be a resource for families to determine what is best for them. Everything will fall into place from there.

To learn more about McKnight Place, call us at 314-789-8461 (Assisted Living & Memory Care) or 314-789-8206 (Extended Care).

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