Keep the flame alive: Help prevent caregiver burnout
Know the formula:
Family caregivers, nurses, hospice and senior caregivers are all at risk for caregiver burnout. It’s natural for caregivers to form strong bonds with the patients or residents that they care for on a daily basis. The emotions that result from patients or residents requiring a more demanding level of attention can lead to longer hours and high amounts of stress for their caregivers. It’s important to be able to recognize when burnout occurs and to help your staff with the emotional challenges they may endure.
The numbers reveal that caregiver burnout is becoming an epidemic:
- 55% of caregivers say they skip their own doctor’s appointments
- 63% report having poor eating habits
- 58% claim their exercising habits have declined
- Stress levels can take up to 10 years off a caregiver’s life
- A caregiver’s immune system is negatively affected up to three years after they stop providing care
The effects of burnout can weigh very heavily on a caregiver. Mark Donham cared for his wife, Chris, 24 hours a day while she suffered through Alzheimer’s. Mr. Donham suffered mentally, physically and financially throughout the process. When his wife didn’t recognize him any longer, he compared this to the feeling of his heart ripping apart. He later went to the hospital because he thought he was suffering from a heart attack, but it turned out to be a side effect of the stress he was under. He forgot to care for himself while he was occupied with his wife.
Preventing this stressful reaction is vital. President and CEO of the National Alliance on Caregiving, Gail Gibson-Hunt, said:
“There’s a double-edged sword when we fail to support caregivers, because we put both the caregiver and the care recipient at risk.”
Consider implementing additional resources to provide your caregivers with a healthy and supportive environment:
- Stress reduction sessions and exercises
- Opportunities for staff to vent about their stresses and frustrations to a counselor or therapist
- Allotted time away from the bedside
- A strong team atmosphere—hire supportive coworkers
Even with preventative measures in place, caregiver burnout can still occur. Sometimes, the bond that caregivers form with their patients and residents becomes strong enough to override the perception that they are putting themselves under too much stress. To make sure that this doesn’t go unnoticed, look for specific symptoms:
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Changes in sleep, appetite or weight
- Mental and physical exhaustion
- Loss of interest in previous hobbies
- Urges to hurt themselves or the patients they care for
When a caregiver experiences burnout, they only see the need to devote as much time as possible to the person they care for, and not how it will affect their health and relationships with others. If you notice a caregiver showing burnout signs, offer them assistance right away. Lend a hand and keep the flame alive.