Caring for an aging family member, disabled child or ill friend has become more common than ever before. Taking on some or all of the responsibility for a loved one’s physical, mental and emotional care requires time, attention to detail, patience and love. The rewards can be very satisfying but there is also a risk of “caregiver burnout” if those responsibilities become too much to handle. Caregiver burnout is characterized by overwhelming fatigue, chronic stress, emotional exhaustion and feelings of guilt, anger and isolation. It hurts the caregiver as well as the person they are caring for.

    This article will help family caregivers recognize if they are approaching “burnout” and, if so, what they can do to prevent or relieve it.

    Ten Warning Signs of Caregiver Burnout

    The first step in preventing or relieving caregiver burnout is recognizing the warning signs. Only then can you take the steps necessary to reduce your stress and get the help you need. Here are the top ten warning signs to watch for:

    1. No longer taking part in activities you once enjoyed.
    2. Withdrawing from friends and family.
    3. Denial about the severity of the family member’s illness.
    4. Increased levels of anxiety and fatigue.
    5. Changes in appetite, weight.
    6. Changes in sleeping patterns.
    7. Getting upset more quickly than normal.
    8. Feeling down, irritable, hopeless and helpless.
    9. Getting sick more often.
    10. Lack of concentration.

    How Can Caregivers Deal With Stress & Fatigue?

    There are many ways that you can reduce the stress of caregiving. The two most important things to remember are that

    1. You are not alone.
    2.  You must always put your own health and well-being first. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for your loved one.

    Create your own support circle

    As the primary caregiver supporting your loved one’s well-being, you also need to make sure you get the support you need from others. When possible, enlist the help of family members or friends in helping with your caregiving duties. If there are duties you can’t take on or manage by yourself, don’t be afraid to delegate them to others. You can also widen your support circle by meeting other caregivers at community programs. They can be an excellent sounding board and provide you with emotional support.

    Know your limits and set realistic goals

    As your loved one’s primary caregiver, it’s important to know your personal limits and set goals for yourself that are realistic. This is essential if you want to avoid overwhelming yourself with tasks you will not be able to complete without experiencing unnecessary stress and pressure. Be very honest with yourself about your time availability and capabilities, and be aware of your personal barriers. Know what you can and cannot do, and delegate what you can’t do.

    Related: Caregiver Daily Checklist

    Include mind-body connecting practices

    It’s easy to forget about your own health when you’re busy with a loved one’s care. You need to be healthy in order to take good care of your family member. A daily relaxation or meditation practice can help you relieve stress and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, or mindful meditation. Even taking a few minutes in the middle of an overwhelming day can help you feel more centred.

    Break away occasionally

    If you’re not regularly taking time off to de-stress and recharge your batteries, you are risking your own mental health and your ability to provide effective care. It may be hard to imagine leaving your loved one in someone else’s care, but taking a break can be one of the best things you can do for yourself – and for the person you’re caring for.

    Most communities have some type of respite care available, such as:

    • In-home respite: Health care aides come to your loved one’s home to provide companionship, nursing services, or both.
    • Adult daycare centres and programs: Some centres provide care for both older adults and young children, and the two groups may spend time together.
    • Short-term nursing homes: Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers take a break.

    Related: Read our complete Caregiver Guide about senior independent living.

    Investigate community and online support programs

    • Local Caregiver Support Groups: For in-person support, look for local caregiver support groups. Sit and chat with other caregivers and get real- life solutions, information, and help. To find these groups you can contact nearby senior community centres, places of worship or your local government website.
    • Online Support Groups: Connecting with people all over the world who may be facing the same challenges as you is a great way to find support, answers, validation and encouragement. You’ll be able to get helpful information from thousands of caregivers just like you. Be sure to also check out specialized support networks on the websites of organizations such as the Canadian Cancer Society, Alzheimer Society of Canada, Parkinson Canada, and Heart & Stroke.
    • Social Media: Outlets like Facebook have groups and pages for caregivers of all types. Simply search for groups focused on caring for aging adults to be able to ask questions, get feedback and ask for recommendations

    Take advantage of provincial support programs

    In Canada, each province’s health ministry provides access to support services that will make it easier to care for your loved one. The services offered vary from province to province so be sure to check with your province’s Ministry of Health to learn more. Services offered include:

    • Personal care support
    • Home care nursing
    • Home risk assessments
    • Housekeeping
    • Meal programs
    • Behavioral support programs
    • Respite care
    • Enhanced support options

    Implement technology for effective caregiving and peace of mind

    There are an increasing number of technologies available that can relieve some of the stress of caregiving, giving you and your loved one peace of mind when you are not able to be there. One of the most helpful is a medical alert service such as Lifeline. A medical alert service provides your family member with a simple device, usually a pendant or wristband, with a help button on it. If your family member has a medical emergency or fall, they can press their help button and quickly be able to speak with a staff member at the service’s 24/7 response centre, who immediately sends the help needed and notifies you. The best medical alert services, like Lifeline, follow up to make sure help has actually arrived. Because falls are a potentially life-threatening risk for older adults, some providers also offer fall detection, which contacts the response centre automatically if it detects a fall.

    Lifeline even offers an automatic medication dispenser to help your loved one take their medications on time, as directed.

    A medical alert service means that your loved one can always get the help they need, even when you can’t be there. The peace of mind this gives is priceless.

    Related: 5 Best Medical Alert Services in Canada

    The Positive Side of Being a Caregiver

    The caregiving experience has many positive benefits to be enjoyed. Perhaps the most often reported benefit is a sense of giving back to someone who has cared for the caregiver in the past, such as a parent. Caregiving also connects you on a deeper level with your loved one, no matter how close you are already. Caregivers feel the satisfaction of knowing that their loved one is getting excellent care, and many feel a sense of increased meaning and purpose in their life. Some caregivers also feel good about modelling caregiving behaviour as a positive experience for their children.

    Related: Resources for caregivers to address common challenges

    Preventing Caregiver Burnout – Takeaways

    People who care for others are typically kind, helpful individuals who are willing to make sacrifices for others. However, it is all too common for these same people to be so dedicated to caring for someone else that they forget to care for themselves. By taking the steps outlined in this article to avoid burnout, caregivers are free to enjoy the deep, personal satisfaction of providing care for someone they love.

    Check the Lifeline medical alert service, or call 1-800-LIFELINE (1-800-543- 3546).

    What You Should Do Now:

    Here are 5 ways we can help you or your loved one live safer and more independently at home as long as possible:

    1. Get our latest tips, tools and resources straight to your inbox. Sign up for our monthly newsletter.
    2. Not sure if the time is right for a medical alert service? Take this quick assessment to find out.
    3. If you would like to learn how to live a healthier and safer lifestyle, go to our blog or visit our resources section, where you can read and download guides.
    4. Wondering which medical alert system company is the best for your needs? We’ve put together a guide comparing the best medical alert systems for you.