Try these 29 Hacks to Prevent Caregiver Burnout

Preventing Burnout Allows You to Be a More Effective Caregiver
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Caregiver burnout. We hear a lot about it, especially when caring for someone with Alzheimer's or another kind of dementia. But, how do caregivers avoid being overloaded? What's helpful in coping while you watch your loved one deal with the effects of dementia? 

First, be aware of the warning signs of burned out caregivers so you know what to be on the lookout for. Then, choose several of these strategies and make them part of your regular routine.

1) Get enough sleep. 

The importance of sleep has been researched repeatedly. It's true. While you can function at a sub-par level for a short time on poor or minimal sleep, sleep deprivation affects your memory, your health and your ability to be a patient and excellent caregiver.

2) Eat good foods.

A healthy caregiver is more equipped to provide care to others, and what we eat affects our health, both in the short-term and in the long-term. Consider these 11 foods which have been correlated with a lower risk of dementia and also have many other health benefits.

3) Ask for help.

There is no special award for caregivers who avoid using the help that's available. You will be a better caregiver if you seek support. If you struggle with asking for help because of your pride or your expectation that you should just handle things on your own, re-frame the need to seek help by focusing on the knowledge that you are doing this for your loved one- for her well-being- not just yours.

4) Find community resources and use them.

Not sure where to begin? Contact your local Alzheimer's Association, Area Agency on Aging or a home health care agency near you.

5) Gain perspective by comparing with others.

It's all in how you play the (comparison) game. Choose others who are worse off than you and mentally identify how their challenges or losses are greater than yours.

While it may seem an odd way to deal with stress, comparing your situation to others who are having a more difficult day (or life) can actually help- not by minimizing your losses but by changing your perspective on your situation.  

6) Use technology.

Whether it's an alarm on the cell phone every time a medication is due or GPS tracking so you know where your loved one is if he wanders outdoors, technology can simplify life.

7) Connect with others in similar roles.

Know someone else in a caregiver role? Meet up for coffee and chat about the blessings and challenges of the caregiver role.

8) Connect your loved one (if possible) to others.

You can reduce your caregiver stress by making sure that your loved one's emotional needs are well met. Whether it's a cancer support group, an Alzheimer's support group or a way to connect with others who have chronic health challenges, arranging for support from people besides yourself can help meet your loved one's needs and reduce the weight on you.

9) Consider palliative care. (Note: This is NOT hospice care.)

Why get palliative care services involved?

Because this can be a way to provide additional resources and support to you and your loved one. And, it's often a covered benefit of Medicare.

10) Sing a song.

Music can be a great stress reliever. Whether it's singing in the shower, playing your favorite downloaded songs while you care for your loved one or sitting down with your guitar for a few minutes, music can reduce stress. It also has a multitude of benefits for those with dementia.

11) Try adult day care.

There are adult day care centers that can provide healthy social interaction and meaningful activities for people with dementia. This may be a way that you can continue to keep your loved one at home instead of in a facility, yet give you a break from your caregiver role as well.

12) Practice relaxing.

Notice if your shoulders are tight and consciously relax them. Let them sag. Is your jaw tight? Practice letting it relax. Stretch your back and take a deep breath and slowly release it. Just paying attention to these simple quick ways of relaxing your body can make it easier to handle life's daily challenges. 

13) Take a hot bath.

Slow down. Instead of taking the five minute shower and rushing off to your next obligation, take a 30 minute bath and soak up the relaxation.

14) Don't gloss over challenging behaviors at the doctor's appointment.

Sometimes, when talking to the doctor, it's tempting to minimize the challenges you encounter while caring for your loved one. However, in order to best care for her, it's important you give an accurate picture to the doctor who is caring for her. Especially if she's experiencing hallucinations or delusions that are distressing to her, her doctor needs to know about this so that appropriate treatment decisions can be made to reduce that distress.

15) Journal your feelings.

Make this journal a place to be honest. Highlight the encouraging events and the things for which you can be grateful. Identify the difficulties and discouragements. Record the special and humorous moments.

16) Educate yourself on what to expect.

Because you're caring for a loved one, it can be easy to forget that their behavior, cognition or physical condition is due to the disease. It may be fairly easy to remember this with others, but when it's a family member or close friend, our perspective can become blurred. Learning about the typical disease process can prevent you from being completely surprised by changes and help remind you that these caregiving needs are typical of the disease, rather than a choice by the person.

17) Plan ahead.

Make a plan for the "what ifs." What if she needs nursing home care? What home health care agency will you use if you are able to keep him at home but need some help? What medical decisions can you make now so that you don't have to make in the future? Has your loved one designated a power of attorney for healthcare decisions and for financial ones? Taking the time to answer these questions can greatly reduce a caregiver's stress as the disease progresses.

18) Make physical exercise a priority.

This doesn't have to be a the gym. It can be anything. Exercise can involve dancing in your living room, gardening in the back yard, a few minutes here and there, going for a run or doing yoga. The important thing is to do it. Not only has exercise been shown to decrease stress, it also has been correlated with a lower risk of dementia.

19) Call family meetings regularly to keep others involved.

If there are other family members around, be sure to communicate regularly. Sometimes, this is best done in person where differences of opinions can be better resolved. Other times, a virtual communication system- such as through email or a private facebook group- can be a good way to keep everyone up to date and to ask for help when it's needed.

20) At least once a month- at minimum- go out with friends or stay in by yourself- whatever fills you.

For some, locking themselves in their room for a few hours while someone else is on duty to care for your loved one is heaven. For others, a night out on the town is the right way to refill your emotional tank. Whichever option fills you (or something in the middle), do it.  

21) Practice gratitude.

Be intentional about the habit of gratitude. Whether its journaling about it or setting up an accountability system with a friend who can regularly ask you what you're thankful for, gratitude can decrease stress by giving a positive lens with which to see life. This can also be balanced by honestly admitting the difficult times with that friend as well.

22) Offer your loved one meaningful activities.

Meaningful activities- and I'm not just talking about Bingo at the community center- can improve the quality of life for your loved one and thus decrease your stress as a caregiver.

23) Decide what's important and work on loosening up on what's not.

They always say, "Pick your battles." And what good advice this is. You can't do everything and do it all well. We all have our limits, and proactively identifying what you're going to prioritize and what you're going to relax about prevents everything from collapsing.

24) Stop thinking it's selfish to take care of yourself.

This is often the biggest barrier for caregivers. Caregivers often have the mindset of living sacrificially. While helpful to an extent, you are doing your loved one no favors at all by becoming worn out and empty. None. Your gift to your loved one is to keep a balance so that you can continue to be there for them; not to empty yourself out, become physically or emotionally ill and then be unable to care for them. 

25) Monitor for signs of depression.

It's not unusual for family caregivers to develop feelings of depression related to the weight of being a caregiver. Know the signs of depression, and ask a trusted family member or friend to help monitor you for them. Being a caregiver is a privilege, but it also can increase the risk of depression.

26) Go to a support group.

Support groups can educate, encourage and just be there to listen. They can help by suggesting ways to better handle certain challenges. 

27) Seek professional counseling.

Sometimes, even a couple of sessions- which are usually covered by insurance- can be helpful to reassure you that you're doing a good job, get an objective opinion about the challenges you face and point you in the right direction for how to best balance life and caregiving for your particular situation.

28) Arm yourself with knowledge about effective strategies.

For example, if your loved one is confused and insists that something is true while you know it's not, learning the strategy of distraction instead of spending time arguing with him can be very helpful in decreasing your frustration level.

29) Set your limits. 

Caregivers tend to be reliable people who are helpful to many others. This is a great trait but you can't do it all. If your default setting is "Yes," practice setting limits by saying, "Let me get back to you about that" rather than, "Okay. I'll make it work." Then you have the chance to review your commitments and realistically decide if you can really take something else on. Chances are, your plate may be quite full, and this may be a season of life where you limit your outside activities. 

Sources:

Alzheimer's Association. Caregiver Stress. Accessed March 26, 2016. https://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-caregiver-stress-burnout.asp#manage

Area Agency of Aging of Pasco- Pinellas, Inc. Stage 3, Section 1. Preventing Caregiver Burnout. 2013. http://agingcarefl.org/stage-three-section-1-preventing-caregiver-burnout/

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