The dangers of caregiver fatigue

Photo by Toa Heftiba

When we think of wellness for older adults, one often forgotten aspect includes those who care for seniors.

Whether it’s an adult child caring for a parent or an older adult caring for their spouse, the health of caregivers is just as important as those for whom they care. In fact, according to the Statistics Canada, it is estimated that over 8 million Canadians provide some level of care to a family member or friend with a mental or physical illness or disability.

Caregiver fatigue — also known as caregiver burnout — is when a caregiver is at their end of their rope, whether that be physically or emotionally. Not only can this lead to feelings of discontent and irritation for those for whom they’re caring, but it can have potentially dangerous effects in terms of health for both individuals.

Causes of caregiver fatigue

When an individual puts a huge portion of their mental and physical strength into caring for another person, it can begin to sap both their energy and their emotional ability to cope.

Common causes of caregiver fatigue include:

Role confusion: often times, caregivers are thrown into the role to care for someone with whom they already have an established role. For many, this means that your spouse is now your caregiver — or vice versa. This can blur the lines between your relationship with this person and can cause a great deal of stress when attempting to differentiate your roles, whether it be as a child, a spouse or a sibling.

Expectations: When entering into a caregiver role, there may be little chance for the individual to “get better” or recover. Some of the conditions that often put spouses in caregiver roles, such as dementia or similar neurological diseases, do not have a cure. It can be hard to grasp that as much effort as you put into caregiving, it does not mean you’ll be able to influence a person’s recovery.

Financial strain: Being thrown into a caregiver role while also working full-time only adds to a multitude of stresses. Having to take additional time off work, in addition to the potential for costly treatments, adds to the potential stressors that can lead to caregiver fatigue.

In addition to the causes of caregiver fatigue, there are a multitude of symptoms that have been identified by the Canadian Psychological Association associated with caregiver fatigue. These include:

  • Depression, anxiety, and/or irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Feeling exhausted despite adequate rest
  • A weakened immune system
  • Loss of interest in personal needs, desires, and pastimes
  • Increased feeling of resentment towards the care recipient and/or family/friends
  • Loss in satisfaction of being a caregiver
  • Feeling helpless, hopeless and isolated

Caregiver fatigue can be debilitating, and can result in the reduction of one’s ability to properly give care. Thankfully, there are a variety of methods to help address the issue.

The biggest thing is communication. You are not alone in being tired, exhausted, physically and emotionally drained. There are others like you out there, and it’s okay to feel like you need either assistance or even someone to vent to.

Many experience feelings of guilt, that they “should be able to handle things,” but approaching assistance is what’s best not only for the carer, but also for the person for whom they are giving care.

Meeting with other caregivers in similar situations can give an outlet and provide a community, assisting with these feelings of guilt, anger or helplessness.

There are also a variety of resources available for individuals who provide care. Kerby Centre has the ability to point you in the right direction for these resources.

Even beyond official resources, it’s alright to ask for assistance from family or friends. Reaching out to these people may surprise you with how many responsibilities and tasks they will be willing to take on.

Self-care is also extremely important. It’s just like the idea of the pressure masks, which fall down from the ceilings of airplanes. Security measures repeat to us, over and over, that is important to put on your own mask before helping others. If you’re out of energy and unable to give care, it doesn’t benefit yourself or the other person.

In this way, make sure to keep up with your own health appointments. Eat a balanced diet and ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Make time each week to socialize or do something that makes you happy, like a hobby or leisure activity.

Caregiving is an important role to play, but no one should have to sacrifice themselves entirely without help, and these strategies can assist with caregivers experiencing fatigue.