Many years ago, I was a nurse in a long-term care facility.
All of our patients needed some kind of care twenty-four hours a day. Many of them couldn’t walk anymore, and those who did needed to use walkers to get around.
They needed help with every single activity of daily life, ADL, for short. We-
- helped people out of bed, and in and out of chairs with teams of two people, or using lifting equipment.
- had to crouch down to get socks and shoes on, bend over to help with dressing, and stretch and twist, to get people to stand up, and move over to a chair, bed, or wheelchair.
- only worked eight-hour shifts, and were tired and often sore by the end of the day.
But, at least we didn’t also have to buy and prepare food, clean the rooms, and do laundry, and take our patients to the endless round of testing and medical appointments for our patients.
Our patient’s families, usually a spouse, had been doing all of that, and not getting much sleep, as well, for a very long time.
Self-care was only something a spouse could read about, if there was a spare 15 minutes when there wasn’t something urgent to look after.
Then one day, it eventually all broke down.
Sickness, accident, or mental health problems such as depression, caused the caregiver to collapse.
Sadly, at that point, it is an emergency, and health professionals have to move in quickly to get everyone the help they need. There are few if any, choices for the family.
I have seen an elderly couple come into the hospital, one of them to be admitted for care, but could see that the caregiver looked worse than the person we were admitting. Sometimes, the spouse passed away while the other one was in care.
Caregiver burnout is something that can happen to professional caregivers such as nurses, social workers, doctors, and others in the Helping Professions. It can happen even quicker when the whole “team” is one person, or mostly one person.
What can a Caregiver do to prevent burnout?
There are some strategies that families find helpful in keeping everyone cared for.
Be open and honest about what you can do and what you can’t or are not willing to do. This means you make sure that your Doctor and people on your family members Health Team know that you are not going to do certain types of care, or that you have medical issues that mean you can’t do certain tasks. Then don’t do them.
Advocate for yourself just as much as you do for your family member.
Keep connected. This one is possibly the hardest to do. It takes work to phone someone and arrange to go out for coffee, but it is essential to your Mental Health to connect with others in a setting that has nothing to do with illness and caregiving duties.
When your day seems to be 36 hours long- this is a good resource for people in a caregiving role.
Sleep. Nothing else matters more. Nothing else is so hard to achieve. This may be something that respite care can help with.
Learn to relax.
Finally, be gentle with yourself.
You will make many mistakes and will learn enough to write a caregivers help book all on your own.
I can help with ideas and resources to help you with this very challenging time of your life, and the life of the person you are caring for and about.