Caregiver burnout is a problem which can arise in people who provide long term care to people who need extensive care and support. Most commonly, caregiver burnout is seen in people who are caring for a member of the family at home, although professional caregivers can also experience burnout. Burnout is a very serious problem, and it is something which needs to be addressed, because the quality of care provided can decline as a result of burnout, and in some cases, a caregiver can become abusive because he or she feels frustrated, stressed, and resentful.
Especially for people caring for a member of the family, being a caregiver can be exhausting and stressful, in a physical and emotional sense. Family caregivers usually do not have medical training, and they are on call all the time, because they live in the home. As a result, they may feel immersed in a family member's illness, and they can experience a sense of isolation. When someone requires long term care, it is also not uncommon for friends and family to gradually distance themselves, making a caregiver feel even more isolated.
It is often difficult for people to recognize caregiver burnout in themselves. Some signs include depression, sleep disturbances, irritability, constant fatigue, a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness, turning to alcohol or stimulants, experiencing feelings of resentment or frustration, feeling sick often, changing eating habits, being reluctant to engage in social activities, or feeling sluggish and disinterested in work. Because caregiver burnout can be challenging to recognize, it is important for caregivers to be willing to listen to the people around them, as an outside observer may identify the signs before the caregiver realizes what happens.
There are a number of techniques which can be used to avoid caregiver burnout. One of the most important techniques is respite care, which gives the caregiver a break. Respite care can take the form of another caregiver who may be another member of the family or a paid caregiver who comes to the house to provide care, or it can take the from of a temporary placement for a few hours or even a whole day in a day care facility for adults or children with special medical needs. Having respite care gives a caregiver a chance to focus on taking a break and relaxing.
Setting up clear breaks in the structure of a caregiver's schedule is important, as is acknowledging one's limitations and seeking help. Many caregivers also find it beneficial to exercise, meditate, play with animals, or engage in other activities which can provide relaxation. Encouraging independence in the individual receiving care can also be helpful. Many patients would actively prefer to be more independent, and a physical therapist or occupational therapist can help a patient achieve a higher level of independence which may allow a caregiver more breaks.