5 ways to regain your energy after caregiver burnout

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As a caregiver of an aging loved one your days are long and filled with responsibilities. Taking care of yourself is at the end of the list – and it stays there. You may feel run down, lethargic and like you are burning the candle at both ends. These are some of the symptoms caregiver stress and burnout and you should pay close attention to them. If you fall into full-fledged burnout it will significantly impact your ability to care for your loved one.

46% of caregivers suffer from depression, just one of the signs of caregiver burnout. Others include:

  • You have much less energy than you once had
  • You are constantly sick and rundown
  • You are constantly exhausted even though you sleep at night
  • You neglect your own needs because you’re too busy or you don’t care anymore
  • Caregiving is a source of anxiety and gives you little satisfaction
  • You’re increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caring for
  • You feel helpless and hopeless.

There are ways to address these feelings and regain your energy with simple, common sense strategies. If you are suffering from burnout, some of these suggestions may seem impossible to carry out. You really have no choice; to ignore burnout is to risk your ability to care for your loved one.

1. See a doctor:

Make a doctor’s appointment with your primary care physician. There may be underlying causes for your fatigue and malaise like high or low blood pressure or high or low blood sugar. Your doctor can help you get back on track to good health.

2. Exercise a little every day:

You don’t have to go to the gym. Walk around the yard. Jog up and down the driveway. Put on some music and dance inside the house. Moving will increase the amount of oxygen in your heart, lungs and brain and will help you to feel better immediately. When seniors exercise regularly and work fitness into their daily routines, it will boost their energy levels and help fight fatigue.

3. Learn to meditate:

This doesn’t mean that you have to go to a mountain top retreat! It means that you find a quiet spot every day for 5 or 10 minutes of quiet reflection and deep breathing. When your loved one takes a nap, sit in a chair and practice deep breathing for relaxation. Find a beginner’s Yoga practice on DVD, online or through a television service. Yoga will relax your muscles, your mind and improve your energy levels.

4. Eat well for more energy:

Feed your body with healthy food that will fuel your energy. Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean protein, and healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil will give you steady energy.

5. Get a good night’s sleep:

Using the hours when you should be sleeping for other tasks will actually give you diminishing returns. You need 8 hours of sleep a night. When you get less, your mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle stress will suffer.

Caregivers spend most of their time caring for our loved ones, subsequently creating an opening for stress, fatigue, and breakdowns. Preventing caregiver burnout can’t be done with tact and preparation; additionally, Home Care Assistance also offers respite care to support and mitigate this unfortunate phenomenon.

How to build a long distance care team

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We live in a mobile society and that means that adult children are not always going to live in close proximity to aging parents. That makes it difficult to make sure their daily needs are addressed, especially if illness or chronic disease strikes. It is possible to put together a long distance care team that will provide for your loved one and give you some peace of mind. Here are some tips on how to put together a reliable team that will serve the best interests of the senior you love.

1. Ask the senior how you can be most helpful
  • What do they need daily?
  • What tasks are difficult for them?
  • Do they have regular weekly or monthly appointments – hair, physician etc. that they need transportation to and from?
2. Talk to the senior’s physician
  • If the senior is willing to give you written permission, or you are the health care proxy, ask the physician to update you about the senior’s health. You can also discuss this with your loved one, but often seniors will hide information about their health condition for fear of losing their independence. You need to know exactly what the health impairments are in order to address them appropriately.
  • If you do not have permission or are not the health care proxy the physician cannot, by law, release private medical information to you. However, he or she may be willing to suggest the types of support that think will be most helpful.
3. Talk to friends, family members, neighbors of your loved one
  • Can a schedule of support and help be created?
  • Can a neighbor’s child take out the garbage or walk your loved one’s dog?
  • Can a sibling who lives close by take your loved one grocery shopping?
  • Can neighbors or family members check in the senior regularly, especially during extreme hot and cold weather?
  • Make sure everyone has all your phone numbers, your e-mail and other contact information.
4. Rely on local resources

There are many organizations that provide support for seniors. You can find the ones in your loved one’s area by checking these sources of information:

  • Eldercare Locator, 1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
  • National Institute on Aging website
  • Family Care Navigator
  • Your state government’s website, search for “elder care”, “senior care”, or “INSERT STATE NAME Executive Office of Elder Affairs.”

Home Care agencies can also be a great resource to rely on. Certified, professional home caregivers can take care of your loved one and keep you updated on their condition.

5. Keep detailed records
  • Create a 3-ring binder in which you can keep notes, medical records, insurance information, calendars and even printed copies of emails. This will be a great help to you as the care of your loved one becomes more complex
  • Include contact information for all physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, case managers and specialists, like physical therapists
  • Make copies for all those involved in the support and care of your loved one and keep the records updated

The National Institute for Aging is a great resource for information on long-distance caregiving. They have two downloadable publications:

  • Long-Distance Caregiving: Twenty Questions and Answers
  • Long-Distance Caregiving—A Family Affair

The NIH also has a webpage dedicated to caregiving. It is a rich source of information that lists numerous books, fact sheets and information pages on a wide range of issues involved in caregiving. Last week, we published a piece on how to manage the Emotional impact of Long-Distance Care – an aspect of caring for your loved one that you don’t want to miss.

The importance of self-care for caregivers

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As a caregiver, you probably hear “Take care of yourself” more often than not. It can seem an impossible task. Caring for an aging loved one is an all-encompassing task on top of your other responsibilities at work and at home. If your loved one has recently been discharged from the hospital, caregiving has probably become more intense, and your exhaustion has probably deepened. Self-care is essential if you are to survive. There is a way to care for yourself in the midst of all your responsibilities and here are some realistic ways to make that happen.

1. Nap when your loved one naps.

Lock the doors and place a cot, oversized chair or bed next to them. Take a cat nap when they do. Yes, there are many other things you could be doing while they sleep. However, this is an opportunity to squeeze in time to care for yourself, and you need to make it a priority.

2. Snack when your loved one snacks.

You may be too tired to eat three big meals a day, and that can lead to snacking on High-fat, high-sugar foods. You can change that. When you make snacks for your loved one, make them as healthy as possible and make enough for yourself. Try whole grain crackers with slices of cheese and apples. Serve small cups of soup and half a sandwich. Create a colorful plate of sliced oranges and grapes. Prepare a morning snack and an afternoon snack. Pour water in the good wine glasses and add a slice of lemon. If you have to prepare snacks anyway, why not make them appetizing for you and your loved one?

3. Relax for 10 minutes.

Set the timer and sit down. You can fold the laundry or sort through the mail while you sit down with your feet up. Turn on your loved one’s favorite TV show, make a cup of your favorite tea, coffee or hot chocolate and watch it with them. If they don’t have a favorite show, then find one that you like and watch it together. Do some deep breathing exercises and do not get up until the timer goes off!

4. Breathe in fresh air.

It doesn’t matter what climate you live in; you need fresh air. Whether it is a hot, dry southern climate or a cold northern one, you need to breathe in the outdoor air at least once a day. It’s good for the lungs and the mind. If your loved one can’t go outside, stand in front of an open window. Bundle them up if the weather demands it and then let the fresh air in. Do deep breathing exercises and teach your loved one to do them with you. In a matter of minutes, you will feel refreshed.

Caregivers give their all to their loved ones – all day, every day. Caring for yourself can seem impossible unless you begin to look at it differently. Most caregivers aren’t going to ask relatives to step in so they can take a day off and even fewer are going to take the time to go to a spa. However, if you think of the small moments in the day in which you can care for yourself along with your loved one, it will seem easier to accomplish. Read more about how to take care of yourself in our blog post, “How Caregivers Can Avoid Depression.”