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As our nation ages, the number of family caregivers is increasing. From 2015 to 2020, the number grew from 43.5 million to 53 million. The pandemic has no doubt spurred that number to increase even further, as many people brought home their family members from nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
Caring for family members is hard on the caregiver, and it sometimes results in feeling burned out. “Burnout is really a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that can change the attitude of caring for someone from positive to negative or unconcerned,” said Barbara Roehl, M.D., Medical Director at Inspira LIFE, a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). “It’s not only damaging to caregivers themselves but can also be harmful to the people they care for.”
If you or a loved one are a caregiver, it’s important to understand what burnout looks like and take time to address it.
Symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to signs of depression and anxiety. If you recognize these signs, you may be nearing burnout:
It’s common for caregivers to have difficulty taking time for themselves. In addition to physically caring for an ill or aging loved one, they must also deal with scheduling doctor’s appointments and dealing with insurance. And, they may not feel like “self-care” is appropriate.
“Caregivers often feel guilty putting themselves first, but that’s what is necessary to maintain the physical, emotional and mental strength to keep going,” said Dr. Roehl. “You can’t take good care of someone else without self-care first.”
To avoid caregiver burnout, or to treat it if you’ve recognized the signs and symptoms, start by taking some time for yourself to exercise, read or watch your favorite TV show. Eating healthy meals and getting adequate sleep can also help.
Staying organized and setting realistic goals by breaking tasks down into smaller parts can also help you feel in control of the situation.
In addition, it’s important for caregivers to seek help. “You may want to turn to a close friend or family member you trust, or a professional therapist, to help you sort through the emotional task of caring for someone,” said Dr. Roehl. “Support groups for caregivers, or those that are disease- or condition-based can also help.”
Caregivers can also get help with their caretaking duties through programs like Inspira LIFE, which provides a wide range of services, including medical care, home and personal care, help with meals and nutrition, mental health services and more.
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