Alzheimer’s Caregiver Burnout

by Nancy Wurtzel on March 1, 2016

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Many times in my blog, I’ve written about being a caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s disease.  People sometimes ask me about caregiver burnout and did I go through that experience.

Yes, I absolutely did experience burnout.

I was consumed by providing perfect care, which, of course, wasn’t feasible.  It was difficult to see it at the time, but I was making myself sick in the process.

At one point, I ended up in my doctor’s office with a long list of symptoms — stomach pain, indigestion, sleep issues, feelings of dread, headaches, dizziness and more.  After many tests, my doctor sat me down for a talk.  He thought my symptoms were brought on by stress.  He gave me a pep talk and sent me on my way.

Driving home, I remember feeling panicked.

What would happen if I couldn’t continue to care for my mother?  This was a real possibility.  If I stayed on the same path, I could also harm my own health.  With a lump in my throat, I asked a hard question: How much do I give up to care for my mom?

Something had to change, and over time it did.

With the help of friends, family and online support, I was able to strike a better caregiving balance.

Alzheimer’s Caregiving in Perspective

caregiver-Alzheimer's-dementia-memory loss-aging,-caregivingFirst, I came to terms with the fact that I could not cure my mom.  Her Alzheimer’s disease was progressing, and my goal had to be realistic.  Instead of a cure, my goal became making Mom’s life a little better. I came to realize this smaller goal was attainable.  It was possible to make a difference in my mom’s life as she moved through the disease.

Eventually, I was also able to give up on my quest for caregiver perfection — an impossible goal.  My new mantra became: “Good enough is good enough.”

While in the midst of caregiving it is really, really difficult to see your situation clearly.

Some part of me believed this extreme dedication was a sign of being a good daughter, but I learned it is impossible to sustain this level of commitment and the sacrifices that come with it.  Not only could I not sustain it, but I was now having health problems of my own.

Caregiver Burnout Warning Signs

Below is a list of caregiver warning signs that might apply to you or someone you know:

  • Refusal to take any breaks or share caregiving duties
  • Believing no one else can provide care for your loved
  • Symptoms of insomnia or fatigue that doesn’t go away, even with adequate sleep
  • Isolating yourself from family and friends
  • Crying easily and quick to lose patience
  • Harboring feelings of resentment, hopelessness, and even dread
  • Having feelings of resentment toward the person under your care

caregiving for elderly parents-caring for older relatives-aging aging in place-primary and secondary caregiversRemember, caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint.  You’ve got to pace yourself for the long distance and this means conserving both your mental and physical energy.

Finally, ask yourself, “Would my loved one want me to completely give up my own life at the expense of my own physical and mental wellbeing?”

I think all caregivers would agree the answer is ‘no.’

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1 Ken Chawkin March 7, 2016 at 11:49 pm

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story and listing those caregiver burnout warning signs. Very practical advice. I’ve been there. It’s very challenging. As long as we can ensure our loved one’s comfort and dignity, while taking care of our own, we’ve done the best we possibly could given the circumstances.
A new pilot study came out on family caregivers benefiting from Transcendental Meditation reducing the stress, fatigue and depression associated with caregiving at home. You and your readers may find it helpful. I posted some graphs on my blog showing the reductions after two months of TM practice. I also link to the press release, study, and some of the medical news coverage. http://theuncarvedblog.com/2016/02/18/there-is-hope-for-family-caregivers-burning-out-taking-care-of-their-elderly-infirmed-loved-ones/
A similar pilot study was recently completed on hospital nurses who were suffering from burnout and compassion fatigue, and they also benefitted from regular TM practice. It comes down to being kind to ourselves in a most healing loving way.
All the best to you,
Ken Chawkin

2 Nancy Wurtzel March 10, 2016 at 7:51 am

Ken, I really appreciate you sharing the information about TM. I do yoga and practice some meditation…I know I’d benefit from a deeper practice. TM would make a great upcoming post and I’m grateful you brought it to my attention. Cordially, Nancy

3 Judith A. Levy, EdM, OTR March 2, 2016 at 7:37 am

Thanks so much for sharing a true and heartfelt reaction to dealing with your mom’s illness. From personal experience – I agree completely!
Judy Levy

4 Nancy Wurtzel March 10, 2016 at 7:49 am

Judy, Thank you so much for coming to read and for your comment. I really appreciate it! Best, Nancy

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