Caring for a loved one who needs extra assistance can help your senior relative continue to live independently, but caregiver burnout may develop if you’re taking on more than you can reasonably handle. Knowing the signs of caregiver burnout can help you decide when to contact a hospice or palliative care provider for assistance. Three Oaks Hospice provides palliative and hospice care for local patients who need help with activities of daily living.

Caregiver Duties

Caregivers take on duties that senior or terminally ill relatives formerly did on their own to make living at home easier. This might include assisting with personal grooming, cleaning up around the house, administering medication or calling to make medical appointments. Some caregivers provide transportation to appointments and do grocery shopping for their loved one.

Why Caregivers Burn Out

Taking care of a senior relative can be rewarding, but it can also lead to exhaustion and anxiety. Caregivers who take on more than they can handle may burn out and become less able to take care of their loved ones or themselves. Providing care may affect your physical, emotional and mental health, particularly if you’re doing everything yourself. Sharing the duties of care with other family members or a professional palliative care provider eases the burden and ensures that your loved one gets an appropriate level of care.

Factors That Cause or Increase Caregiver Burnout

Sometimes caregivers burn out simply because they have too much to do and not enough time or energy to handle everything. For some, though, there are other factors that increase the chances of burning out. Financial stress, family expectations and external circumstances can all affect the caregiver and cause burnout. The more time you spend focused on your loved one’s care, the more likely you are to burn out. If you’re living with your senior relative full time or spending most of your time at your loved one’s home, you may not have the time or energy to maintain your own mental health.

Role confusion is sometimes a cause of caregiver burnout in families when the expected roles have changed the relationship dynamic between family members. Someone who has spent years or decades in the role of spouse or child may have difficulty transitioning into a caregiver role. The relative who requires care might still have expectations related to those other previous roles, which can lead to difficulty managing the emotional aspects of the caregiver relationship. In the case of role confusion, it might be better for the former child or spouse to continue providing support in that role while bringing in a professional caregiver to help with activities of daily living.

Expectations also have an impact on caregiver mental health. Caregivers who choose to assist an elderly or terminally ill relative often hope to receive appreciation and support for their role, but other family members might be unwilling to help out or might seem ungrateful. Caregiving might also feel personally unrewarding if the person receiving care has a progressive disease, such as Alzheimer’s disease. When the person being cared for regresses or starts forgetting family members and friends, including the caregiver, this can take a significant toll on your emotional and mental state.

Signs of Caregiver Burnout

When you’ve been caring for an older relative, burnout is a real possibility. Some of the primary signs of caregiver burnout mimic symptoms of depression or anxiety. Caregiver burnout symptoms include:

  • Irritability

  • Impatience

  • Withdrawal from friends and other activities

  • Changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia or excessive sleepiness

  • Feeling hopeless or helpless frequently

  • Emotional exhaustion

  • Physical fatigue

  • Getting sick more often than normal

  • Loss of appetite

  • Excessive eating

  • Losing your temper more often

Providing care for an elderly or ill relative also takes a physical toll. If you are helping maneuver a relative into bed or a wheelchair, providing physical support getting into a vehicle or carrying bulky items into the house, these activities can cause unexpected aches and pains. Being alert to your loved one’s needs all day or night may make you feel constantly exhausted. Compassion fatigue is another potential symptom of caregiver burnout. The constant stress of caring for a loved one might make you feel numb and unable to empathize with others, even if you are a normally empathetic person. You might find it harder to make care decisions or feel a lack of connection with people you love.

Because symptoms differ so greatly for different people, it can be hard to determine whether you’re experiencing caregiver burnout or simply normal fatigue. Essentially, if you feel overwhelmed and unhappy for days or months at a time, this indicates that you need relief.

Some adult children feel guilty about contacting a hospice provider instead of taking care of everything themselves. These feelings are normal, but they shouldn’t hold you back from making the right decision for your family. Experiencing stress and burnout doesn’t mean you’ve failed at caring for your loved one. Being aware of your own limitations and ability to give appropriate care can help you assess whether a hospice provider might be the best choice for everyone involved.

Dealing With Caregiver Burnout

Getting help is the best way to prevent or deal with caregiver burnout. In some cases, this means being part of a support group of other caregivers who can share advice and sympathize with your struggles. Some caregivers find professional therapy helpful for maintaining mental health while assisting a loved one. Stress-reduction techniques, including exercise and meditation, might help you deal with the daily stresses of providing elderly care.

Spreading out the burden of care between multiple people ensures that no single individual takes on too much. This might mean sharing duties with other adult siblings or hiring a hospice care provider to take over some of your daily caregiver tasks. To assess what tasks you need to delegate, consider which activities you can reasonably take care of on your own and which leave you physically or mentally exhausted. Keep in mind that there may be things you can’t control, such as the health of your loved one.

When to Contact a Hospice Provider

Feeling burned out can take a toll not only on your ability to provide great care for your senior relative but also on your ability to maintain your own self-care routines. When you start to feel as though you can’t handle the demands of being a full-time caregiver, it’s probably time to seek out a professional palliative or hospice care provider.

In some cases, the choice to contact a hospice or palliative care provider becomes obvious when the level of care needed exceeds your ability to provide that care. If you have physical limitations yourself that mean you can’t help your loved one maneuver around, or if you have time constraints that mean you can’t be there when needed, getting outside help is essential.The right time to engage a hospice care provider differs for each family and depends on the level of care you can provide in the first place. For some families, hiring a professional is essential as soon as a senior relative receives a terminal diagnosis or incurs a serious injury. Others might attempt to take on some home care duties themselves or share those duties between adult children for a while. If burnout seems like a possibility in your situation, getting a hospice or palliative care provider on board before that happens can make the transition easier on everyone.

It’s important to get professional help when you need relief because delays could affect your health as well as the health of the person you’re caring for. Burnout can make you more forgetful as it takes a toll on your mental health, so you might not remember to complete duties your loved one requires. Excessive sleepiness could cause oversleeping that might make you miss your loved one’s late-night call for assistance, and fatigue may leave you unable to physically help your aging relative with tasks that require strength and dexterity.

How Hospice and Palliative Care Providers Help

A palliative care or hospice provider helps ease the burden of caring for your older relative all on your own. Hospice care workers help assist with daily living activities, such as bathing, cooking meals, caring for pets and getting dressed. They might run errands or provide needed socialization to reduce loneliness. The goal of home hospice care is to keep your loved one comfortable and give support for independent living.

When you engage a hospice care provider to help with your loved one, the specific duties depend on your situation. A hospice care provider might also offer counseling to family members to help you prepare for the eventual departure of your loved one. This focus on the mental health of your family may help you provide better care and ensure that your relationship with your loved one remains positive during end-of-life care. Knowing that your senior relative is well cared for also eases your own mind and makes you more able to engage positively with your loved one when you visit or take over specific care duties. If you’re searching for a hospice provider, Contact Three Oaks Hospice today to discuss your loved one’s needs.