Caregiving 101: Preventing Burnout and Maintaining Self-Care

Nearly 10,000 baby boomers reach the age of 65 every single day. As the number of baby boomers retiring begins to increase, so will the demand for caregivers. In fact, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, nearly half of older adults will require outside support by the time they reach 85 years old. Traditionally, caregivers assist older adults in daily activities such as medication management, eating, bathing, getting dressed, and running errands. Caregivers can be unpaid family members or professionals who are hired by the individual or the family to assist a loved one. While caregiving is a rewarding profession, it can also be emotionally and physically demanding. Over time, it’s not uncommon for caregivers to experience stress, which can ultimately lead to caregiver burnout.

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout occurs as a reaction to the emotional and physical strain of caring for another person. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to report high levels of stress when compared to those who are not caregivers. While caregiver stress can show up in different ways, some warning signs are common amongst caregivers according to the Mayo Clinic:

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

• Feeling overwhelmed and worried
• Fatigue
• Gaining or losing weight
• Becoming irritated or angry
• Losing interest in activities
• Experiencing headaches or body aches
• Sleeping too much or too little
• Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
• Feeling sad
• Lack of concentration

When these warning signs are ignored, it can lead to dangerous mistakes, such as making errors in managing medications or slower responses in emergencies. When caregiver stress goes unacknowledged for long periods, it can also lead to long-term health concerns.

Long-term effects of caregiving on health

Caregivers can experience a wide range of emotions in a single week, let alone a single day. Caregiving can reinforce feelings of helpfulness, love, and commitment, and provoke feelings of worry and exhaustion at the same time. When left unidentified, chronic stress releases stress hormones in the body, which can have serious long-term effects on your health. Here are some of the most common ways stress can affect the body:

Depression and anxiety. Long-term stress can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, which can increase your risk of developing other conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Weakened immune system. When stress is left unacknowledged it can cause additional stress on your immune system. The immune system works to fight off illnesses and diseases. Weakened immune systems can increase your risk of developing a cold or flu, and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

Obesity. Chronic stress can produce betatrophin, which blocks a protein that breaks down body fat. Long-term release of betatrophin can lead to weight gain or obesity, which can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Increased risk for chronic diseases. Ongoing stress can also increase the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis.

Problems with short-term memory. Those who experience high levels of stress can also develop problems with their short-term memory, making it difficult to care for another person.

Self-care for caregivers

While stress is common for caregivers, leaving it unaddressed can cause long-term problems on our overall health and wellness. Our bodies have a natural way of combatting stress, which is regulated by our nervous system. However, if you’re experiencing high levels of stress, you may need to activate your body’s natural response through a variety of activities. Here are a few ways to help address stress and prevent feelings of burnout:

• Practice self-compassion. It’s not uncommon for caregivers to feel like they’re not doing enough for their loved one. This can lead to feelings of guilt, especially when caregivers take time to care for themselves. However, practicing self-care allows a caregiver to be present and focused when caring for a loved one.

• Practice breathing exercises. Meditation and relaxation techniques have been proven to be effective ways to process and redirect feelings of stress. Taking five minutes at the beginning or end of the day to breathe deeply or practice meditation will help you relax your body. Here are a few exercises to get started.

Eat well. Forgetting to eat or not getting enough quality sleep can contribute to caregiver stress and burnout. The simplest thing caregivers can do for themselves is eating a balanced diet and create a relaxing nighttime routine. To prevent inflammation in the body, avoid foods that are processed and high in refined sugars. Focus on eating foods that are high in nutrients, protein, and fiber.

Connect with others. Caregiving can be isolating, especially for those caring for a spouse or family member. Reconnecting with others and prioritizing socialization can help combat feelings of isolation and depression. You might even consider scheduling social activities, like talking to a friend on the phone, into your weekly calendar.

Reduce stress. It’s important to be able to recognize warning signs that might occur when you begin to feel stressed. These signs might include disruptive sleeping patterns, forgetfulness, or feelings of loneliness. Once you understand what is at the root of your stress, you can begin to take action.

Ask for help. It can be extremely difficult for caregivers to accept help. But, accepting someone’s offer to help can allow you to manage your stress and conserve your energy. Make a mental list of ways that others could help you if they offer and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Start to exercise. Consistent daily exercise can help reduce your risk of caregiving related injuries, illness, depression, and anxiety. A mind-body practice such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation can help reduce stress. Just 30 minutes of exercise each day can promote better sleep, help manage your sleep, and reduce physical and mental tension.

Services for caregivers

In addition to prioritizing self-care, there are many resources available to caregivers who may be feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. Many communities offer meal delivery and other non-medical services like housekeeping, cooking, and making changes to your home like installing ramps or modifying bathrooms. Respite care, which is when a substitute comes to relieve a caregiver, can help free up time for full-time caregivers who may need to run errands or schedule appointments. The National Eldercare Locator can help you identify caregiving services in your area.

Caregiving support at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we are constantly looking for new ways to show our support to caregivers. We also are available to discuss options to relieve the strain of caregiving if having your loved one live in one of our communities would be a more suitable option. If you’re interested in learning about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.

Dementia Caregiving during COVID-19

Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, nursing homes across the nation have put policies in place to protect their residents and staff members. As residents in nursing homes and senior living communities continue to practice social-distancing by remaining mostly in their homes, caregivers have been presented with unique challenges.

According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are nearly 34.2 million caregivers who provide unpaid care to older adults in the United States. Of those caregivers, 15.7 million provide support to a family member who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Due to COVID-19, many of these caregivers have been unable to access traditional resources, such as respite care or relying on other family members to help carry the responsibility.

Signs of Caregiver Stress

Even without the stress of COVID-19, caregiving is emotionally and physically challenging. Whether you’re caring for a spouse or family member, it’s not uncommon to experience stress, especially as your normal routines and access to resources have changed. While we all experience stress and anxiety in different ways, these are the most common signs:

Poor Sleep- When people experience stress, one of the most common indicators is a change in sleeping patterns and poor-quality sleep. Most adults function best with six to eight hours of sleep per night.

Irritability- When we feel stressed in addition to not sleeping well, it’s common to feel irritable. You might notice yourself saying things you might not normally say or having less patience than normal.

Depression- Long-term stress can cause you to experience depressive symptoms such as constant sadness, feeling hopeless and withdrawing from activities that usually give you happiness.

Loss of Concentration- When the stress of caregiving becomes too much, it can be hard to concentrate on anything at all.

Health Problems- Stress can take a toll on our immune systems, especially when we experience stress long-term. You might be more susceptible to the common cold or flu when under tremendous stress.

How to Combat Caregiver Stress

Caregiving can be extremely demanding, so it’s not uncommon for caregivers to experience periods of stress and burnout. However, this doesn’t mean caregivers have to live this way. In fact, according to Healthline Magazine, there are a variety of simple ways to combat stress.

Self-care is the most important thing caregivers can do to combat feelings of burnout, especially during these times of self-quarantine. Because the quarantine doesn’t have a certain end-date, it’s crucial to keep checking in with yourself and how you’re feeling. Pay attention to your stress levels and acknowledge when you begin to experience them more often. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and make sure to save time in your daily routine for something you enjoy.

One of the best things you can do for yourself while caregiving in quarantine is stay connected with your support team. This might be a friend, a group of caregivers, or a family member that you can talk to regularly. With these times being so unpredictable, it might help to regularly schedule your call.

Tips for Dementia Caregivers during COVID-19

Caregiving during emergency situations, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, may require an emergency plan. The Alzheimer’s Association has gathered resources and provided a number of ways for caregivers to successfully support their loved one even through these hard times.

Focus on Preventing Illnesses

Caring for a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s is already challenging, so keeping a normal routine despite these circumstances is important. You might consider showing your loved one the essentials of handwashing and lead by example. Handwashing schedules and friendly reminders in the restroom and near sinks might help prompt your loved one to wash more frequently. If you’re exposed to other people, remember to wear a mask and gently remind your loved one to do the same.

In the case of an illness or emergency, it’s important to be prepared with a medical care plan. People dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s might experience changes in condition or react unexpectedly in emergency situations, creating a new plan that is conducive to COVID-19 parameters will help you feel prepared in unanticipated medical situations. You might consider addressing these points in your care plan:
• Contact your healthcare provider to learn about their new procedures regarding routine and emergency visits
• Ask your healthcare provider if telehealth visits are available if chronic care situations should arise
• Ask your provider to help you navigate emergency situations if one should ever present itself. What is the proper protocol?

Help Keep Families and Friends Connected

Self-isolation can be harmful to those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Caregivers, especially those who aren’t related to their loved one, should make an effort to keep the individual connected to their family. If your loved one is used to connecting with certain people on a regular basis, you might consider scheduling consistent phone calls, video chats or exchange emails with family and friends. While social distancing limits physical connection, it’s important to find ways your loved one can stay emotionally connected to those they care about.

Plan Low-Risk Outings

For Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, maintaining a routine can make the difference between a good day and a bad one. If your loved one is used to going outside or running errands with you, low-risk outings might be a good alternative to your regular outings. Walking outside, visiting a park or even going for a drive is a great way to make the day feel exciting and productive. However, if you do decide to go out, make sure to abide by social distancing guidelines when around others who don’t live in your home.

Observe and Respond to Behavioral Patterns

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, those who are living with dementia often rely on behavior as a way to communicate non-verbally. These behaviors can be expressed through screaming, striking-out or becoming emotional. Caregivers must rely on these behaviors as a form of communication.

As routines change, you may notice your loved one relying on non-verbal communication more than usual. If you’re unsure what’s being communicated, it can be helpful to rule out root causes of the behavior such as, hunger, pain, loneliness, overstimulation, fear or frustration.

The Alzheimer’s Association has provided a list of strategies to help mitigate the behavior and identify root cause (you can find the entire list here):
• Offer a favorite food
• Look at photographs together
• Read a book or magazine
• Exercise
• Create a peaceful environment
• Provide tasks
• Connect with friends and family

Get the Care You Need at Maplewood Senior Living

At Maplewood Senior Living, we prioritize the health and safety of all our residents in every community. That’s why we’re focused on providing additional care and support to our caregivers during this time. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a virtual tour, please contact us.