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Posted Jan 23 2010 12:00am

     It is estimated that approximately 25% of the American population is helping a relative with personal cares.  By personal cares, I am referring to companionship, housekeeping, assistance with bathing and grooming, meal planning and preparation, exercises, mobility assistance, monitoring medications, incontinent/toilet care, transportation and errands, child care, etc.  This statistic only mentions relatives and does not include friends, neighbors, etc.  That estimate will only continue to rise, as today Americans are living longer than ever.  In addition to Americans living into their 80s and 90s, the baby-boomer generation (those born between the years 1946-1964) is just starting to peak.  Caregivers be aware!  Keep in mind that you will need respite.

     For the elderly and disabled, there is no place like home.  From the time we are children, we love the security and warm memories of being in the home – it’s quite simply where the heart is. To remain in one’s familiar setting provides a better quality of life (dignity, independence and peace of mind) and usually costs less than other alternatives.  But what about the caregivers?  It can be absolutely exhausting and places a burden on anyone that is providing a loved one with assistance 24/7!  As a registered nurse in the field of home-care for a great part of my career, I have seen so many caregivers that rarely take a break for themselves.  It is imperative that these individuals take some time for their own mental health and take care of their bodies as a whole.

     There are definitely early warning signs that should alert the caregiver that they could be burning out – it is a gradual process that occurs over an extended period of time.  If the caregiver does not pay attention to these signs, one would most likely experience a major breakdown.  Let’s look at the signs that should be noted as red flags that something is wrong and needs to be addressed:

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout

• Feeling tired and drained most of the time

• Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot

• Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches

• Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout

• Sense of failure and self-doubt

• Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated

• Detachment, feeling alone in the world • Loss of motivation

• Increasingly cynical and negative outlook

• Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout

• Withdrawing from responsibilities

• Isolating yourself from others

• Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done

• Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope

• Taking out your frustrations on others

• Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

     As a nurse, I can understand the wish to help a loved one at all costs.  However, you need to have respite time – go out to dinner or to a movie or even take a nap!  There are plenty of home-care businesses that will relieve you even for a couple of hours, maybe a whole weekend.  There are also friends and other relatives that can give you some time off – don’t be afraid to ask.  Caregivers are so special and I admire each and every one of you, but please do yourself a favor and take a break!


Physical, emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout:

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