Caregivers on the Edge

If you’re one of the 40 million people in this country who are caring for older relatives, have you ever felt like you just can’t do it anymore…but then you keep going? If the answer is yes, you’re probably flirting with caregiver burnout. What are the signs and symptoms of burnout? Carolyn Northrop can answer this question. An elder care coordinator at Strohschein Law Group, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in St. Charles, Illinois, Carolyn says that caregivers on the verge of burnout often show these signs:

  • Lack of energy
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Changes in eating habits; weight loss or gain
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
  • Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
  • Feeling like caregiving is controlling your life
  • Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative with the person you’re caring for and/or with others
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Difficulty coping with everyday things
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical problems
  • Lowered resistance to illness

With caregiving, the responsibility is often manageable in the beginning, but increases with time as the elder’s condition worsens. That means more work for caregivers. “I've seen tiny 80-year-old women trying to pick up their 160-pound husbands to transfer them,” Carolyn said. “Before you know it, the needs have grown to a point where they are unmanageable.”

Carolyn says that a change in attitude is often one of the first signs of burnout. “A previously upbeat person may become negative when they’re not getting the help they need,” she explained. “I can walk into a meeting with a prospective client, usually a son or daughter coming into a meeting with their elderly parents. Maybe the mom is the caregiver for the dad. Before anybody even starts talking, you can see that mom is completely burned out and that she is on the verge of a mental breakdown.”

Why would a caregiver routinely disregard their limits when it comes to providing care? Carolyn says that guilt is one of the main reasons. “People make promises,” she explained. “They feel a sense of duty. It can be very difficult for them to release some of that responsibility.”

As the elder’s needs increase, many caregivers fall into the habit of self-neglect. They stop going to the dentist. They stop going to the doctor. They stop doing all the things that they need to do to take care of themselves because their loved one’s needs are all consuming. In many cases, the self-neglect coupled with the stress become so profound that caregivers get sick and die before the relatives they were caring for. 

How do you address this level of denial? Carolyn uses a series of questions to gently open her clients’ eyes. She will ask about their self-care routines and whether they take breaks. If the denial persists, Carolyn explains something that is obvious to most people, but lost to caregivers in the throes of burnout. “In long-term care facilities, they have three shifts for a reason,” she said. “It’s because nobody can do it all. Nobody can care for somebody 24/7 without a break.”

Working with a Life Care Planning Law Firm is one of the best ways to make sure that an older adult and family caregivers get the help they need. Find a Life Care Planning Law Firm near you.