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Caregiver Burnout

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As I was flipping through channels this morning I came across a program called Second Opinion. I went to the web site www.pbs.org and came across some great info that I want to share.

Second Opinion for Caregivers

As the population ages, families, friends and loved ones of the sick and elderly find themselves in changing roles. Caregivers struggle with the complexity of the medical system, financial issues and family tension. Yet many caregivers refer to their experience as powerful, positive and uplifting. To support caregivers, the PBS health series Second Opinion has created a national public education campaign on caregiving.

Second Opinion for Caregivers is funded through a generous grant from The Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation. http://www.langeloth.org/

Caregiver Burnout (Episode 507)

If you're a daughter or son, sibling, parent, or spouse, or even a friend, some day you may find yourself in the role of "family caregiver". More than 52 million Americans (31 percent of the adult population age 20 to 75) are already there.1 They wear many hats –that of companion, personal shopper, financial manager, chauffeur, housekeeper, cook, personal care assistant, advocate, counselor, nurse, emotional support provider and more. They are a lifeline for the people they support and our long term care system. A study by AARP reveals that at 350 billion dollars, the economic value of non-compensated caregiving exceeds 2006 Exxon Mobile profits.

While the caregiving role can be enormously rewarding, it also means a lot of sacrifice. It may start with just a few hours a week. Usually the need expands and with each increase, caregivers forfeit more of their personal lives. The average family caregiver provides nearly 18 to 20 hours of care a week in addition to holding down a job and managing a family.2 It is not unusual for caregivers to be forced to leave the workforce as needs escalate. Caregiving can last from less than a year to several decades.

Caregiving comes with a whole host of conflicting emotions. Self doubt might be at the top of the list. Are you making the right decisions? Are you following the doctor's instructions correctly? When you cannot fix the unfixable you may become frustrated. You grieve as you bear witness to a loved one's decline. You grieve for the life you are no longer living. Guilt follows hard on the heels of anger and resentment.

Just as overwhelming is the never-ending "To Do" list. Most caregivers face a landscape of too little support at too high a cost. While improvements are slowly being made, our healthcare system just isn't set up to deal with those who require long term home care.

Enter caregiver burnout. It happens when caregivers try to do more than they are able to do. It's physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and leaves the caregiver vulnerable to illness. The chronic stresses of being a caregiver can lead to cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and a compromised immune system.

Caregivers are often so preoccupied with the needs of their loved ones that they fail to recognize their own warning signals. Caregiver burnout symptoms are similar to those for anxiety and depression and include:

Sleep disturbances and fatigue

Lost interest in once-pleasurable things

Changes in appetite, weight, or both

Getting sick more often

Withdrawal from social contacts

Persistent feelings of worry, hopelessness and sadness


Low self-esteem

Overreacting to minor issues

Decreased productivity

Alcohol or drug abuse

To evaluate your level of caregiving stress take a simple test from the PBS Caregiver's Handbook (part of the web site for our 90-minute program Caring for Your Parents). Go to Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire (PDF).

http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/caringforyou ... ssment.pdf

If you find you have a number of symptoms associated with high levels of physical and emotional stress, contact your primary care doctor for an appointment, take the questionnaire with you, and discuss how you can get the medical, physical and emotional support you need.

1 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Informal Caregiving, Compassion in Action

2 American Society on Aging, A Profile of Informal and Family Caregivers

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