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Caregiver Fatigue

January 17, 2022

CDS caregivers often try to do more than they can mentally and physically handle, while neglecting their own well-being. When caregivers don’t get the help they need, the constant exhaustion can turn into caregiver fatigue. Read this article to learn more about the symptoms of caregiver fatigue and the steps you can take to prevent it. 

What is Caregiver Fatigue?

Stress and fatigue due to demanding caregiving tasks may cause irritability, anger, depression, a weakened immune system, as well as frequent illnesses in a caregiver. Caregiver fatigue, also called caregiver burnout, occurs when the caregiver reaches a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that eventually turns into resentment towards caregiving. 

A number of factors may be at the origin of caregiver fatigue. Below, we list the most common ones. 

Causes of Caregiver Fatigue

Caregiver role strain

When you spend hours on end caring for a loved one with a serious illness or a disability, it’s easy to neglect your own health and well-being. As a consequence, it may become even more difficult to carry out your tasks. Eventually, caregiver role strain may affect your mental and physical health and, in the long run, lead to caregiver fatigue. 

Unreasonable demands

Most family caregivers are not healthcare professionals. If you lack the necessary skills and knowledge about your loved one’s health condition and managing care, your responsibilities may take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being and ultimately result in caregiver fatigue.

Unrealistic expectations

It is normal for a caregiver to hope and believe that the care they provide will have a positive effect on their loved one’s health. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, especially in patients who suffer from progressive diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Unrealistic expectations can increase frustration and stress and gradually lead to caregiver fatigue. 

Lack of control

The feeling of lack of control when it comes to providing care and the patient’s prognosis, as well as the uncertainty regarding financial resources, are among the major factors that cause mental and physical exhaustion in caregivers. 

In the following section, you can read more about the symptoms of caregiver fatigue. 

Symptoms of Caregiver Fatigue

Taking care of an elderly loved one is a rewarding task but an extremely demanding one. In order to prevent caregiver fatigue, it is essential to recognize the warning signs as soon as they appear. 

The symptoms you should look for include: 

  • Disengaging, feeling discouraged, and lacking the motivation to do the job
  • Loneliness and withdrawal from social events, friends, and family members
  • Missing doctors and dentist appointments and other personal responsibilities
  • Unwillingness to try new activities
  • Turning to alcohol or drugs
  • Changing eating habits that result in losing or gaining weight
  • Frequent illnesses and increased reliance on pain medications
  • Experiencing sleep problems, such as insomnia and poor sleep quality
  • Experiencing depression and feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Feeling impatience, anger, and irritability
  • Feeling resentment toward the patient and wanting to hurt them.

Timeline of Caregiver Fatigue

The following timeline of caregiver fatigue is based on the timeline developed by Northwest Regional Council. It will help you recognize the signs of caregiver fatigue at different stages of caregiving.

From 1 to 18 months

  • Recognizes the differences between providing long-term care vs. acute care
  • Eager to provide the best possible care for the patient
  • Attends to personal care
  • Attends to family relations
  • Manages the house, garden, car, shopping, and paying bills
  • Remains optimistic, caring, and supportive
  • If working, spends vacation time on caregiving

From 18 to 24 months

  • Finds it harder to keep on top of things as the patient’s needs increase
  • Still receives some help from family members
  • Starts taking painkillers or sleep medication
  • Takes more time off from work to care for the loved one

From 24 to 32 months

  • Caregiving starts consuming both days and nights
  • Starts to feel emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Less help is available from other family members
  • Has less personal contact with friends and family
  • Neglects own health and misses doctors and dentist appointments
  • Starts experiencing the feeling of powerlessness
  • If working, not attending training for advancement and skips promotions

From 32 to 38 months

  • Feels increased levels of stress
  • Starts taking tranquilizers and medication for musculoskeletal pain
  • Experiences continually disturbed sleep
  • Becomes increasingly irritable
  • Has little contact with others
  • If working, scales back even further on working hours and work responsibilities

From 38 to 50 months

  • Loses the will to take care of him/herself
  • Finds it hard to manage the household
  • Rarely socializes with others
  • Never feels fully rested
  • Displays symptoms of chronic fatigue
  • May experience hypertension or colitis
  • Feels unhealthy
  • Feels guilty and helpless

After 50 months

  • Experiences chronic fatigue
  • Constantly feels unwell
  • Becomes isolated
  • Is unwilling or unable to access help

Although caring for a loved one can have serious consequences for your mental and physical health, fortunately, you can take some simple steps to prevent caregiver fatigue. Below, we list some ways in which you can set boundaries while providing the best possible care for your loved one.

How to Prevent Caregiver Fatigue

Ask for help

If your caregiving tasks start to feel overwhelming, try reaching out to friends and family members. They may be able to help and take on a part of your responsibilities. Another good option for outsourcing your caregiving responsibilities if you need to take a short break from your duties is using respite services, such as home health services and adult day care facilities.

Take some time for self care

Dedicating some time to self care is essential for maintaining your physical and mental health. It will also allow you to be more present and provide better care to your loved one.

Keep a journal

Keeping a daily gratitude journal where you track your small and big accomplishments is an effective way to reduce stress and prevent caregiver fatigue. This practice will help you focus on the positive aspects of caregiving and improve your well-being in the long run.

Maintain a healthy diet

A balanced, healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, lean meat, and healthy fats, is important for preventing caregiver fatigue and other health issues. Be sure to avoid foods high in refined sugars and processed food. 

Remain physically active

Physical activity is one of the best ways to protect your physical and mental health and prevent caregiver fatigue. Exercising on a regular basis will not only help reduce your depression, but also boost your mood and increase your energy levels. Ideally, you should be physically active every day, even if it only means going for a short walk. 

Take some time off

To remain positive and provide the best possible care for your loved one, you should take some time off your caregiving duties when needed. Incorporate your favorite hobby or activity into your routine, such as reading, listening to music, or taking a daily walk. 

Know you are appreciated

Feeling unappreciated as a caregiver can cause resentment, in addition to increasing your frustration and stress levels. Even though you are doing a great job, your loved one may be angry about their illness or disability and they take their feelings out on you. This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate your work, they may simply be focused on their own suffering. 

What’s more, family members who are not caregivers often don’t know how demanding the responsibilities of a caregiver are. In this case, it is essential that you appreciate yourself and all the hard work you’re doing to provide high-quality care for your loved one. 

Join a support group

When working as a caregiver for an ill or disabled relative, it may be highly beneficial to connect to a caregiver community by joining a support group. Meeting others who have similar experiences and challenges as you do will provide reassurance and show you that you are not alone. Other caregivers will also be able to offer useful advice and lend a listening ear when caregiving becomes too overwhelming.

Know your limits

When you work as a caregiver, it’s easy to spend all your time and energy on various caregiving tasks, which may ultimately lead to caregiver fatigue. However, it is not possible to provide great care to others if you don’t set limits and if you neglect your own health and well-being. Be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet, engage in regular physical exercise, and seek medical help when you need it. 

Develop tools for coping

The following coping tools can help you keep stress under control and prevent caregiver fatigue: 

  • Ask for help and support as soon as you feel overwhelmed by your caregiving responsibilities
  • Have empathy, compassion, and optimism
  • Learn additional skills that will help you provide better care and feel more confident in your role as a caregiver
  • Practice deep breathing, yoga, or meditation to help you cope with difficult situations
  • See a therapist if you need help to overcome the stress and challenges of caregiving.