At some point during the long-term care journey, nearly every family caregiver will feel overwhelmed by the amount of care their aging, sick, or disabled loved one requires. But how much stress is too much? There’s a fine line between “normal” stress and the stress described by Dr. Timothy Brigham, a well-known medical educator. Dr. Brigham describes stress as “the basic confusion created when one’s mind overrides the body’s desire to choke the living daylights out of someone who desperately deserves it.”
When the stress level crosses this invisible line, burnout is usually just around the corner. How can caregiver burnout manifest? We posed this question to Misty Clark Vantrease, an attorney and partner at Kentucky Elder Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Louisville, Kentucky. According to Vantrease, caregiver burnout can show up in many ways. Here are a few of the most common.
Self-care may suffer. You know you should exercise, but you just don’t have the time. You can’t remember the last time you went to the doctor, let alone meet a friend to do something fun. A long bath? Forget it. After all, there’s no time. “Caregivers often feel like whatever they’re doing, it’s not enough,” says Vantrease. “The resulting guilt prevents them from taking time for self-care.”
Health may decline. The physical, emotional, and mental demands of caregiving don’t just make a person anxious and depressed, they can actually affect a person’s immune system. “If you are getting sick more often and staying sick longer than you used to, your body is trying to tell you something,” she notes. “It’s not uncommon for a spouse who was initially the healthier of the two to get sick and die first.”
Family conflict may escalate. Caring for elderly loved ones creates fertile ground for disagreement, with the primary caregiver often trapped in the middle. “Everyone has an opinion about what should be done, and those opinions aren’t always welcome,” says Vantrease, whose knowledge of the situation is more than just theoretical. “I have young children and a husband, and I also take care of my elderly parents. This makes me a member of the Sandwich Generation, a group especially at risk of burnout. It’s just not possible to do it all.”
Emotions may run wild. Caregivers under stress may feel furious one minute, then sad and helpless the next. It can be even worse if the elderly loved one is lurching from one crisis after another. “Life can feel out of control—like a roller coaster,” Vantrease says. “When you feel helpless or overwhelmed, it’s easy to overreact.”
If you or someone you know is teetering on the edge of caregiver burnout, what can be done? Is the solution more “me” time? More respite care? More hot baths? Getting other family members to step up to the plate? Maybe. But those fixes can often feel superficial.
The real solution involves expert guidance, the kind that an elder care coordinator in a Life Care Planning Law Firm can provide. These compassionate professionals walk alongside the family, providing support and guidance throughout the long-term care journey, transforming intimidation and fear into confidence and peace of mind.
“Care is the biggest concern for most families,” adds Vantrease. Our elder care coordinators become like family to clients. They cry with them and celebrate successes with them. They completely transform the elder care journey and it’s incredibly rewarding to witness.”