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How One Woman Learned to Identify and Deal With “Caregiver Burnout”

By September 23, 2015Moments

“It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” Edie says. “I had some respite – I no longer had to worry as much if my mother was taking her medication or getting enough to eat.”

Edie was relieved when her 90-year-old mother Lucinda was finally provided with regular home visits by a Health Care Worker.

“It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” Edie says. “I had some respite – I no longer had to worry as much if my mother was taking her medication or getting enough to eat.”

Edie, who was 65 years old at the time and was getting ready for retirement from her job as a school administrator, was also presented with a special challenge: she lives in Tsawwassen, while her 90-year-old mother still lives on her own in a small house in North Vancouver.

“If there were no delays on the highway it still takes at least an hour to reach my mother’s house in North Van,” says Edie. “We would try to make it over at least three or four times a week. On weekends Fred and I would usually stay the night.”

Caring for an Aged Parent Can Often Burn Out Adult Children

Both Edie and Fred are fit and trim, thanks to years spent running marathons all over North America. Edie is also a birdwatcher.

For several years, however, Edie and Fred essentially gave up the life they had built for themselves to care for Edie’s mother.

During the visits Edie and her husband would make sure Lucinda was taking her medication, take her to doctor appointments, shopping for groceries, and to the bank.

Edie also relied on a network of friends in North Vancouver to look in on Lucinda and make sure she was safe.

“While we appreciate the help of all of our friends, they couldn’t always help with some critical tasks, such as making sure my mom kept up with some occupational therapy exercises she needs to do to keep her back strong,” says Edie.

Caregivers Often Feel Shame and Guilt They Are Not Doing Enough

Edie says she also felt a sense of shame that she was not doing enough to help her mother maintain her physical abilities and her quality of life.

Making the drive to North Van several times a week was becoming exhausting for Edie and her husband especially as they were nearing retirement themselves.

“I was also starting to resent the fact we never really got to enjoy living in Tsawwassen,” says Edie.

Edie says she felt guilty about leaving her mother alone for most of the week. However, moving her mother to be closer to them was not really an option.

Lucinda prefered to remain in the house she had lived in in North Vancouver for more than fifty years, and it would be complicated and time-consuming for Edie and her husband to plan and carry out the move.

“While I don’t regret spending time caring for my mother at all, we were becoming mentally and physically exhausted as caregivers,” Edie says. “The respite provided by a home care worker allows us to decompress and focus on taking care of ourselves.”

The respite allows Edie and her husband to re-charge their batteries and enjoy the relationship they have with her mother.

Nearly a Third of Unpaid Family Caregivers Are Stressed Out to the Point of Breakdown

As an adult child caring for an aging parent, Edie’s feelings of exhaustion are far from rare.

According to a September 2015 report by the Seniors Advocate of British Columbia, nearly a third of unpaid family caregivers are stressed out to the point of breakdown due to serious gaps in seniors respite programs.

The BC Senior’s Advocate also reports that:

  • Twenty-nine per cent of caregivers are in distress.
  • Unpaid caregivers provide 19 hours of care per week on average. caregivers in distress report providing as many as 30 hours of care per week.
  • Fifty-four per cent of caregivers would benefit from respite services, however few are accessing the help.

Caring for Aging Parents Is Stressful and Emotional

“There is little question that caregiving is stressful,” BC Senior’s Advocate Isobel MacKenzie says in the September report. “The physical strain of caregiving is exacerbated by the emotional toll of watching your loved one becoming increasingly frail.”

According to the BC Seniors Advocate’s report, respite offers adult caregiver the chance to recharge and avoid burnout or crisis. Respite can include visits by a home care worker.

Ultimately providing caregivers with some sort of respite strengthens a healthy relationship between the person receiving care and the caregiver.

Burnout is Common, But Can Be Avoided With Small Breaks

Susan Fulton, Clinical Leader at Classic LifeCare says caregiver burnout is all too common and can often be avoided with small breaks throughout the week.

“Even a two- or three-hour break can be enough to revitalize the caregiver and give them some room to breathe,” says Fulton.

The caregiver needs a break just so they can go back to being the daughter or the husband, rather than the caregiver, says Fulton.

What Are the Symptoms of Caregiver Burnout?

Edie says that she has learned caring for her mother Lucinda that it’s important to recognize the symptoms of burnout.

“I talked to my family doctor, and I learned how to to recognize and deal with burnout,” says Edie.

Edie says she was feeling constantly tired, and had lost interest in the hobbies that had brought her and her husband to Tsawwassen.

“We moved here because we like to run, and we’re also birders,” says Edie. “We used to travel all over the Lower Mainland to participate in runs and go birdwatching, but we just lost interest.”

Edie says that on the long drive to North Vancouver both she and her husband grew increasingly irritable – a key indicator of burnout.

“I started to use the horn a lot more when I was driving,” says Edie. “I also started to drive a little more aggressively. My burnout was becoming dangerous.”

Edie’s husband started to develop high blood pressure. Edie started to lose weight, mostly muscle mass developed after years as a runner.

“We had all of the symptoms of burnout,” says Edie.

5 Ways Caregiver Can Care for Themselves

If caregivers don’t care for themselves they are likely less able to care for an aged parent or relative.

Five tips to avoid burnout include:

1) Give yourself a break

“My husband was really great about encouraging me to spend some time by myself,” says Edie. “There are some spectacular places to run in North Van, and we took turns during the week getting out and enjoying life.”

2) Find a support system

“While we have very dear friends who help out with Lucinda,” says Edie, “We also turned to people to express how we’re feeling. I have a colleague who was experiencing the same challenge, so we would often check in to see how we were doing, and help each other recognize our feelings.”

3) Get plenty of exercise

“Fred and I instinctively turned to running,” says Edie, “But I had basically given up on running until our family doctor mentioned I was losing weight – specifically muscle mass. When I started running my entire outlook changed, and I felt more healthy.”

4) Eat healthily

“When we were driving nearly every day to North Van we would often stop at Tim Horton’s on the way, and that would be it,” says Edie. “After paying attention to my diet I discovered eating fresh vegetables helped change my moods.”

5) Watch for signs of depression

“I was becoming irritable and had lost interest in reading books or even watching television,” says Edie. “Luckily talking with my colleague helped me identify my feelings and deal with them. All it took was making some time for myself, and running.

In-Home Caregivers Provide Much Needed Respite

Edie says that feelings of guilt often made her feel that she really should not be taking time for herself.

“I felt guilty if I was not doing something connected in some way to helping my mother Lucinda,” says Edie. “It was also really difficult at first to consider asking for help from a caregiver.”

Edie was worried about introducing an unknown person into Lucinda’s home.

“It was also difficult to find the time to research what was home caregiving services were available,” says Edie.

Ultimately Edie’s efforts to build a support network helped her find the right caregiver.

“My colleague at work encouraged me to consider some sort of respite care,” says Edie. “In the end in-home care worked best for us.”

Instead of spending time coaxing Lucinda to exercise or take medication, Edie now has more time to interact more meaningfully with her mother.

“Maintaining that bond and creating new memories is more important to me than anything else,” says Edie. “I am enjoying my time with my mother.”

Some names and situations have been changed in this story for privacy reasons. Classic LifeCare provides in-home support; both live-in and hourly. A Health Care Worker can help with housework, personal care, meal preparation and complex care needs. One of the benefits of private over public home care is that the client is in the driver’s seat. Care can be completely tailored to the individual’s requests.

To learn more about Classic LifeCare and the home care services it offers, visit www.classiclifecare.com.