Caregiver stress, often referred to as caregiver syndrome, is a condition many full-time caregivers experience after months or years of caring for an elderly or disabled dependent. Feelings of exhaustion, anger, resentment and rage are signs that the condition is taking hold. Those who provide care for chronically ill parents or relatives often make significant sacrifices to do. Their own lives, careers and relationships suffer as a result, which leads to extreme burnout and mental angst.
Caregiver syndrome occurs most frequently in individuals who care for loved ones with limited physical and mental capacity. Often times the dependents have behavioral difficulties such as fecal incontinence, aggressive behavior, disorientation, wandering, insomnia and severe memory loss. This requires the primary caregiver to spend 40 or more hours per week seeing to the needs of the elderly relative. Many of these individuals also have children and families of their own to take care of, which makes the situation even more stressful.
Caregiver syndrome is quite serious, as it goes beyond the usual frustration and fatigue one would experience during stressful times. Severe depression may result if the condition is not properly treated, and many individuals who deal with caregiver stress experience physical and mental deterioration as a result.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress & Burnout
Complete and utter exhaustion is a telltale sign of burnout, as the individual providing care will be physically, mentally and emotionally drained. Changes in attitude are common, with previously caring and empathetic individuals feeling indifferent and unconcerned. This condition arises when the full burden of care is placed on one person and adequate support is not available. The toll can be financial as well, as many care recipients are fully dependent on their relatives. This incredible burden causes a great deal of stress and anxiety, often resulting in severe depression accompanied by feelings of guilt for resenting the loved one in need of care. The primary symptoms of caregiver syndrome closely resemble those of clinical depression. These include:
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Irritability, short temper
- Compromised immune function, getting sick often
- Angry or violent thoughts
- Dependency on drugs or alcohol
- Loss of appetite or unhealthy eating patterns
The demands placed on caregivers cause them to neglect their own needs, and their physical, emotional and spiritual health suffers as a result. Constantly feeling overwhelmed and trapped leads to extreme fatigue and feelings of hopelessness. These individuals feel torn, as they are physically unable to keep providing the level of care their relative requires, but there is no one to step in and provide them with the relief they need.
Caregiver syndrome generally develops over time and progresses slowly. It starts with general frustration over the impact that caring for a relative has on one’s life. This frustration begins to manifest in the following signs which may signal that it is the right time for home care:
- Role confusion: This is when individuals have a difficult time distinguishing their role as caregiver from the roles they play to their spouses, lovers, friends and children.
- Unrealistic expectations: Patients with progressive diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s are often unable to show appreciation for the care they receive. Caregivers sometimes expect overt signs of gratitude or an indication that their involvement is making a difference, and are disappointed when this acknowledgement is not made.
- Lack of control: This is caused by frustration over not having adequate time, energy or finances to provide around the clock care to a loved one while maintaining other responsibilities.
- Unreasonable demands: Primary caregivers sometimes see providing care to their sick loved ones as their ultimate responsibility, and place unreasonable burdens on themselves as a result.
How to Reduce Stress & Prevent Burnout
Being the sole caregiver for a sick or elderly relative can be an overwhelming experience. If the stress caused by the arrangement is not adequately addressed, a considerable toll is taken on the health and wellbeing of the care provider. Steps must be taken to lighten the load and give the primary provider some well-deserved rest. Even a few hours of relief each week can make a huge difference.
Making arrangements to have a relative take over or looking into respite care may provide an adequate solution. No one can take care of a dependent all by themselves, day after day, without some form of help. Burnout is a certainty when the full burden of care rests on the shoulders of one person. Family members or friends can help out tremendously by bringing over a meal or providing a few hours of relief. Making respite care arrangements is easy and affordable, and is often covered by insurance.
Tips for Caregivers Experiencing Symptoms of Burnout
Many times it falls on the caregiver to come up with a solution. Help is often available—but only if the individual is willing to ask for it. Here are some tips for making the changes necessary to avoid total burnout.
- Be direct in asking for assistance. Family members and friends may have no idea how you are feeling and that you need help.
- Share the responsibility of providing care. Get as many family members involved as possible to lighten the load on everyone.
- Make weekly arrangements to have someone check up on you. Just knowing that someone else cares and is willing to lend a hand can make a huge difference.
- Accept the help when someone offers. There’s no need to be shy or feel bad about letting someone else take the reins now and then.
- Relinquish some control. Don’t let the full weight of caring for your loved one fall on your shoulders. Recruit others to help out, and use respite care if relatives or friends are unavailable.
Caregiver stress is quite normal when the burden of full-time care is placed on one individual. Learning to recognize the signs and remedy the situation before it gets out of control is the key to effectively dealing with this condition.
Think you might have the symptoms of caregiver syndrome? Feeling burnt out by the care you are providing care for a loved one? We can help. Read more about us, our services and caring for seniors on our frequently asked questions page. We treat our clients how we would want to be treated: with respect, honesty and reliability.