As I reflect on experiences in geriatric case management, my thoughts lead me to my work with families and in particular with caregivers. The most common dilemma seen when working with people that are caring for their loved one is caregiver burnout. As a professional, I can clearly recognize caregiver burnout. Many caregivers unfortunately do not recognize it. Burnout is not like a cold. You will likely not notice it when you are firmly within its grip. Many caregivers work themselves so hard they end up with an illness or hospitalization. I stress to all my families you must take care of yourself in order to care for your loved one. Being a good caregiver means knowing and understanding your limitations. Caregivers often continually focus on all they can do for their loved one. Understanding that we are not perfect and we cannot always do everything all the time is important. Below are some signs that you may be suffering from caregiver burnout. Fatigue- Most caregivers get little to no sleep. Changes in eating and sleep patterns may occur. Over time this takes its toll on our mind and body which leads us to our next sign. Irritability-Lack of sleep and personal time make us very ornery, negative, and at times nasty. Depression- Loss of interest in work and things we normally enjoy. Trouble focusing and lack of productivity. Feelings of helplessness and anger. There are often feelings of guilt and anxiety when we feel we feel this way. Isolation- Depression and the demands of providing care often lead us to isolating ourselves from those we love and from activities outside the household. Increase in illnesses- The above conditions lead to an increase in illnesses such as cold and flu. Many caregivers suffer from neck and back pain which left untreated can lead to a serious condition. In order to better care for our loved ones we must polish up our coping mechanisms. Confide in others. One cannot carry the burden of caring for a loved one alone. Venting is perfectly normal and healthy. Support groups are a great place to do this as well as get advice. Although you feel you are alone, there are others out there who can be of help to you. Others around you may be reaching out to help you but you will not allow the help. Some may find no one is offering any help. Ask for it. Advocate for yourself and your loved one. If family assistance is not an option, seek out help from the community. Your local Area Agency on Aging can be of assistance to you. There are free and low cost respite and day care programs out there in certain counties with vouchers. The Veterans Administration, and Medicaid may help fund in home assistance if you qualify. There are also non-profit as well as for profit programs that can help with in- home care for as little as a few hours a day or respite. If you are a member of a church or temple seek out resources within your place of worship. Leading a healthy lifestyle is key to being a good caregiver. This is something that we all struggle with. Maintain a healthy diet with exercise. There are many exercise programs you can do at home. Setting aside time each day for quiet time is crucial. Even small increments of time can provide much needed relief. Try to get as much sleep as possible. You cannot run on fumes forever. In order to best care for our loved one and ourselves we must self advocate that we receive all these things. Set your priorities. As mentioned, being healthy is one of them. Seeking out assistance and help may take time and energy but in the long run will be beneficial to you and your loved one. By taking care of ourselves we are better able to look after the ones we love. By taking care of ourselves we become healthier and more focused ourselves and better able to give and receive love.
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