I personally witnessed the toll care-giving took on my mom when my father was ill. It created a lot of stress and anguish. There was no pay, no vacation time and no opportunity to reschedule when she felt tired or ill. But it was also an act of love difficult to fathom unless you've been a family caregiver yourself.
My mom and other informal caregivers like her make an important contribution to health care in Canada. In fact, the Canadian Institute for health Information estimates the economic contribution of informal elder care at $25 billion a year. Family caregivers are also the fastest growing demographic in health care in this country, so it's important to recognize burnout and to help those feeling overwhelmed.
Common signs of caregiver burnout:
- Little things cause irritation and impatience
- They have less energy and are exhausted, even after a break
- Eating habits change, including skipping meals and losing weight
- Sleep habits are disrupted: They have trouble falling asleep, or wake early and can't get back to sleep
- Personal needs, including emotional and physical, are neglected
What can we do to help?
- Listen to what caregivers aren't saying, as many people won't admit an inability to cope
- Insist (don't simply offer) on helping
- Hire additional help so the caregiver can take a break
- Suggest tolls that will help, such as assistive devices
- Consider home renovations, especially in the bathroom or on the stairs
A little extra assistance can make a big difference. We need to help families so the generation that care for us does not feel vulnerable - least of all those we love.
Jackie Hickey is a registered nurse with over 20 years experience in community health care and is the author of the Caring@Home blog. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.877.289.3997