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Navigating Our Health: Top 5 Ways to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

Last month my family made the decision to place my grandmother, who is 90 years old, in a nursing facility.

It was such as tough decision for my father and my aunt to make.  She had been receiving 24-hour care from home aids for more than a year.  Her health continued to deteriorate, along with her mind.  She had good days and bad days.  More recently the “bad days” out-numbered the good.

She was often confused and couldn’t recognize her own family members.  This was especially tough on my father.  The woman he had always viewed as so strong, now could no longer bear weight on her own two feet.

My family had really wanted to keep my grandmother in her home.  It was just becoming too difficult.  She recently suffered a fall despite having constant care.  In addition, the financial burden of providing 24-hour home care became difficult.

My grandparents had worked so hard their entire lives and always lived a modest lifestyle.  No one then could have predicted or planned for the expenses of living to 90.  So, the decision was made to find a safe place for her to live, where she could get the care she needed.

The stress of caregiving can really take its toll on an individual and family.  Stress itself can manifest into actual symptoms of illness.  I have seen it many times with patients in the office when they are the primary caregiver for a loved one.  Complaints of stomach issues, chest pain, migraines, dizziness, the list goes on and on, and the tests would all come back negative.  The cause - stress!

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, here are five ways you can avoid caregiver burn-out.  Remember, if you do not take care of yourself, you are no help to others.

 

  1. Ask for Help: Caregiving can be both physically and mentally tasking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether from family or friends, or from a community agency.  There are plenty of agencies in the area that can help take some of the burden off. Some these have agencies have aides that can come to the house 24/7 and are typically paid by the hour.  There are adult day programs, like Beebe’s Gull House Adult Activities Center, respite care services, nursing facilities, hospice care just to name a few.  Educate yourself on what resources are available in your area.  Even though you might not need them yet, you might in the future.
  2. Take Care of Your Own Health: Just because your life is consumed by taking care of someone else needs, do not forget your own. Make sure to see you doctor for regular check-ups and get a yearly physical.  Do not let your prescriptions run out and miss pills.  Make sure to get that screening your doctor ordered, whether it is your mammogram, colonoscopy, routine blood work, etc.  All of these things can save and/or extend your life.  And let’s not forget taking care of the basic human needs.  Get plenty of sleep, don’t skip meals, try to eat a balanced diet, and drink plenty of water.  Avoid too much caffeine, alcohol, and sugar.  Also, try to squeeze in some time for physical activity such as walking, jogging, or swimming.
  3. Take Care of Your Mental Health: Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Do things that make you happy.  Participate in a hobby, attend social functions with friends, or meditate.  Do something to relax and clear your mind.  Depression is very common in people who are caregivers.  Be aware of the signs of depression, which can include depressed mood, fatigue, not sleeping, decreased appetite, ongoing sadness, aches and pains that won’t go away, difficulty focusing, feeling irritable, decreased sex drive or function, thoughts of hopelessness, empty feeling, thoughts of suicide, etc.  If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, please reach out for help.  Your doctor may be able to refer you to support groups, counselors, and/or prescribe medication that may help improve symptoms.
  4. Know Your Limits: It is important to listen to your body and mind when it is telling you it has had enough.  Do a reality check and decide how long you can continue to function at this level.  Be honest with yourself and the rest of your family.  When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a moment to regroup.
  5. Don’t Forget the Reason You Are Caregiving: It is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day tasks of caregiving, that you forget the reason you decided to be a caregiver the first place.  It is usually centered around love and the relationship you have with that individual.  Try to spend enjoyable time with your loved one.  That may look different for everyone.  Remember, you chose to be a caregiver. This helps to remove feelings of resentment and guilt.  In the end, it is okay to have these feelings. The key is to put that relationship back to the center of why you doing what you’re doing.
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Carrie Snyder

Carrie Snyder, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC, is the Women's Health Nurse Navigator. Carrie serves as a liaison between Beebe and the community to help community members navigate Beebe’s services.