A young woman cares for an elderly woman.
Healthy Aging

Intentionally Caring: How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout

When a loved one is diagnosed with a chronic or degenerative condition, often those closest to them are the ones to step up and take over full-time care. These situations can sometimes occur quickly—symptoms begin to show, a diagnosis is given, and life changes seemingly overnight. Other situations, it can happen slowly over time—where it becomes increasingly more obvious that something must change.

Caregivers often don’t think twice, they step right in to fill needs. For this reason, caregiver exhaustion occurs all too frequently. Burnout can not only be physical, but mental and emotional as well. Bayhealth Palliative Medicine Physician Matthew Paul Debo, DO, shares five ways to help avoid burnout as a caregiver:

1. Take time to care for yourself —Too often, caregivers experience guilt for taking time for themselves. It’s just a mindset switch – realizing it is not an indulgence to care for themselves, too. Caregivers are giving so much of themselves that it is fundamental for them to make sure they are recharged to keep going. “As a caregiver, a good place to start is focusing on the basics like getting daily exercise, reducing stress, eating enough each day, and sleeping well during the night,” shares Dr. Debo.

2. Ask for help — “Reach out to trusted family or friends that could step in and give you a break as a caregiver,” advises Dr. Debo. Even if it is just small windows of time, it will make a huge difference. Taking breaks will allow the caregiver to maintain their own mental and emotional wellbeing. This helps to avoid extreme symptoms of fatigue, stress, anxiety and sometimes even depression. Home health aides are also available to provide relief and professional care.

3. Advance care planning — Have a plan written out with your sick loved one’s wishes, well in advance before you truly need it. “Document their directives early on so there are no questions when the time comes,” says Dr. Debo. As a caregiver, this relieves the pressure of decision-making and allows their focus to solely be on caring for their loved one.

4. Be realistic with limitations — It can be frustrating as a caregiver to not have enough time, finances, and help. Recognize what you are able to do and where there might be gaps that need to be filled. Seek outside sources for supplementation where it is available. “Speak with your primary care physician (PCP) or meet with a Palliative Medicine Provider to learn about the programs and services for caregivers that could alleviate some of the burden,” shares Dr. Debo.

5. Talk to someone — It is essential to a caregiver’s mental and emotional health to be able to share their experience with someone. Processing and verbalizing emotions will help create emotional stability for a caregiver that will be essential to get through the days that are tougher than others. If you don’t feel you have someone you can talk to in your immediate circle, “your PCP can refer you to who you need,” says Dr. Debo.

Caregiver burnout isn’t often talked about because it’s hard to admit, or recognize, when it’s happening. Remember that you are not alone and that there are resources to help you. Palliative Medicine services are available through Bayhealth to help with symptomatic burden for your loved ones that can drive caregiver burnout. We can also aid in navigating the road ahead. You can also speak with your PCP about any of your concerns so that they can assist you.

Visit Bayhealth.org/Services/Palliative-Care to find more information and resources for patients and caregivers.

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