Life After Caregiver Burnout and Making Sure it Never Happens Again

Mar 21, 2016

Life After Caregiver Burnout and Making Sure it Never Happens Again

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My Caregiver Burnout: From Then to Now 

About three years ago, my husband and I noticed that his mother was becoming forgetful, and she often seemed confused. After a couple of months, with things getting worse, we took her to her physician where she was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon recommendation from her physician and other health professionals, we decided to have my mother-in-law move in with us. My feelings on this were mixed, but she had always doted on my husband, my children and I, so I put my doubts aside and I became an at home caregiver. I heard things from my friends like “this will be fine, you raised three children… it’ll be just like that.” Boy, were they wrong.

Unfortunately, my mother-in-law’s condition deteriorated much faster than we anticipated, and what started as a part-time, “help with some assistance” responsibility, turned into round the clock care. Within the first year I was assisting her in the bathroom (both using the toilet and bathing), but nothing was as exhausting and nerve-racking than catching her wandering around outside. Eventually, we had to get my mother-in-law a tracking bracelet, and even replaced the locks on all of the doors.

Looking back now, I bit off a lot more than I could chew. I refused help from anyone that offered, my explanation being that this was my only job. Caregiving is a huge responsibility, and it takes a lot of energy, and at this point, I had taken all I could handle.

My Caregiver Burnout

Within my time caring for my husband’s mother, I watched myself change from a caring, nurturing person, to someone who was negative, and even resentful, most of the time. I was withdrawing from my husband, my children and especially from my friends. I went from a healthy 130 pounds (I’m 5’7’’) to 112, without exercising and mostly thanks to not finding (or making) time to eat. In a nutshell, I was depressed, and I was exhausted. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I had no idea what was wrong with me, until I spoke to my physician and he brought up the term: Caregiver Burnout.

I was a textbook definition of the term, and although recognizing what I was going through didn’t fix me, it made me feel so much better. My physician told me this is something that a large percentage of caregivers go through, whether they are caring for disabled children, adults or elderly.

My Recovery and My Life Now

Throughout my recovery I learned that there was a lot of things I could’ve done to prevent this from happening. My goal now is to make sure no one has to go through what I went through. Caregiving doesn’t have to be a negative experience, but you also have to make sure you take the necessary steps to keep it positive. Here are some of the things that help me throughout the day:

  1. Ask for help. I can’t stress this enough. If I had accepted the help my husband and children offered me, I probably never would have went through what I went through. Now if anyone offers help, I jump to the opportunity. Even if they can sit with my mother-in-law for an hour while I run to the grocery store, it helps.
  2. Exercise. Whether your version of exercise is going for a walk/run, doing yoga or jumping on the elliptical, exercising relieves stress and it does wonders for your physical health. Exercising for at least a half hour per day provides me with loads of energy too. Sometimes it’s difficult to find time, but it’s worth waking up a little earlier, or asking someone for help.
  3. Eat right. According to my physician, there are a lot of bad eating habits related to the caregiver burnout. I wasn’t eating much at all, while other people tend to over eat, or binge eat when they get stressed out. All of these habits are super unhealthy, and it’s important to make sure you’re paying attention to your own diet, along with the diet of your loved one.
  4. Listen to your body. There were so many times my body was screaming at me to do things (i.e. slow down, lay down, eat!, take a nap, take a deep breath, etc.), and I was ignoring it. If I would’ve listened, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in the condition I was in. So, if your body is telling you to do something, do it.
  5. Maintain social relationships. Don’t give up on your social life. I lost touch with almost every friend I had in the matter of just a few years. Take some time every week and designate it to socializing with friends, this will help you maintain all of your relationships, and it’s great for you emotionally.
  6. Take a break. TAKE A BREAK! Even if you just sit, drink some tea, and reflect on your day – taking a short break once or twice a day would have helped me put a lot of the emotions I was feeling in perspective, and allowed me time to calm down during some of my breakdowns.

All six of these things could have helped stop my health from deteriorating during my first few years caring for my mother-in-law. Although her condition gradually continues to worsen, our relationship is a lot better and my emotions seem a lot more normal. Of course, I always have days where I get frustrated or upset, as do most caregivers, but you don’t have to let your physical and mental health go down the drain in order to properly take care of someone else.

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Frequently Asked Questions

My sister has been the primary caregiver for our father for the past year and has recently become apathetic. What can I do?

Apathy in one common sign of compassion fatigue and is common among those who work in the caregiving industry. While it is different than burnout, many of the signs and symptoms are similar. If you are able, try to alleviate some of your sister’s responsibilities by filling in and allowing her to practice some self-care as well. Also, do not be afraid to point her in the direction of a caregiver support group. There are many great resources available to help with compassion fatigue.

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My father has lived in the same house for over 50 years, so he's reluctant to leave. How do I talk to him about moving to a senior care community?

When people grow attached to a familiar setting, moving to a senior care community can be a difficult subject, especially when caregiving is involved. To avoid excessive stress for you and your loved one, there are ways to bring up "the move" to elderly parents. Remember to remain honest and address any concerns your father may have. Prepare yourself for resistance. 

Have you checked out our Is It Time to Seek Senior Care Checklist? This resources will help you decide if it really is the right time for your senior to move out. This may be something that you want to bring to a meeting with your senior to show them some reasons why it may not be safe for them to live independently anymore.

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