Caregiver burnout is not isolated to traditional caregiving professionals such as nurses and paid private duty caregivers. In fact, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 40-70 percent of family caregivers report clinically significant mental and emotional effects of caregiving, and a joint report published by AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving found that roughly 40 percent consider their care situation highly stressful.
Be sure to look for the following signs that you are becoming physically and emotionally exhausted by the burden of providing care.
7 Signs of Caregiver Burnout
- Isolation & Withdrawal
If you discover that you consistently don’t want to interact with people, especially close family and friends, it could be a sign that caring for your elderly loved one is becoming too draining.
- Loss of Interest in Activities
If you’ve lost interest in your favorite hobbies and pastimes, it may indicate that you need a break from caregiving.
- Feeling Overwhelmed & Hopeless
Thoughts of hopelessness, suicide or hurting your elderly loved one are dangerous warning signs of extreme burnout and probable depression. You should immediately seek help from a mental health professional if you find yourself having violent thoughts. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and provides free and confidential support and resources to individuals in distress.
- Changes in Mood
If you find that you are normally even tempered but are now quick to anger, or you were once upbeat and now can't find happiness, you may need to take a step back. Trust your emotional state to be a good guage of your current stress level.
- Changes in Eating Patterns
Abnormal eating patterns—whether it’s eating too much or not enough—can be symptoms of extreme stress. Many caregivers experience emotional eating and reach for comfort foods as a way of soothing negative feelings. Others are so wrought with stress that they lose their appetites and hardly eat at all. Digestive issues may accompany changes in appetite as well.
- Changes in Sleep Patterns
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, difficulty staying asleep or a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you may be feeling the effects of caregiver burden.
- Changes in Health
Stress can devastate your immune system, especially over the long term. Illnesses that last longer than they should are a sign of compromised immune function that could be due to your caregiving duties. In addition to drawing out temporary illnesses, chronic stress can also contribute to serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and gastrointestinal disorders.
Where to Turn for Help
Voicing your concerns to a professional—whether it's a family doctor, therapist or social worker—is a great first step in getting the help you need. Remember that the best care can only be provided when the caregiver takes care of themselves, too.
Additionally, finding ongoing support to help cope with the daily stressors of providing care can help reduce frustrations and feelings of despair. In-person support groups are a great resource for caregivers; oftentimes with the added benefit of connecting with others who are dealing with specific age-related conditions like Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. Local Area Agencies on Aging can provide detailed information about the respite resources, counseling services and other support programs available near you. For those who are unable to attend an in-person support group, sources of online support, such as the AgingCare Caregiver Forum, enable caregivers from around the world to connect with each other, vent and share at any time.