COPD Caregiver Perspectives - Recognizing Burnout

Kathi MacNaughton Health Pro
  • Caregiving is a tough job. It's not just the physical labor involved; it's also the emotional strain of trying to squeeze more responsibility and time demands into an already overcrowded life... not to mention having to watch someone you love slowly wither away.


    I think it's hard for anyone who has never been a caregiver for a chronically ill person to truly understand how hard it can be. Sure, there can be rewards -- knowing you're helping someone and making a difference in the quality of their life, spending precious time with your loved one before they exit this life -- but it's still darn hard on the caregiver.

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    Some might say, "Stop complaining... just suck it up... at least you have your health!" Is it terribly self-involved and overindulgent to think of yourself when your loved one is sick and/or dying?


    Well, here's the thing. If you fail to acknowledge the stresses and strains of being a caregiver, then you're going to have a hard time staying healthy enough to continue in the caregiver role. And that would be unfortunate both for you and the loved one who depends upon you.


    For that reason, it's important for caregivers to learn how to recognize caregiver burnout and to act to prevent it or resolve it as quickly as possible.


    I've been caring for my mother with COPD for the past 3 years. The first year was rough; we almost lost her several times. Then we had a year and a half of relatively stable health. But over the past year, and especially the past 6 months, she's been going steadily downhill, to the point that I now believe her days are truly numbered. It could be 2 months; it could be 9 months... who knows? The body and life are mysterious and no one can truly predict with accuracy how long someone will live.


    But what I do know is that it has been agonizing to watch her physical health deteriorate, along with her mental health. Her world is closing in on her; even walking from the front door to the car in the driveway saps her energy reserves completely. Her memory is poor and carrying on the simplest conversation has become a trial, for both of us. In many ways, I feel as though I am living with a stranger, not my wonderful mother who gave me such a great start on life and became a treasured friend once I reached adulthood. She is not the woman I once knew.


    Can you relate at all to what I am describing?


    If so, you know how hard it is to live through this, to stay strong and to keep giving day after day, though your loved one may not seem to appreciate it or even recognize the sacrifices you are making.


    Signs of Caregiver Burnout


    When you're so involved with the day to day of caregiving, it may be hard to even notice the signs of burnout within yourself. So be sure you ask others for help in recognizing them, so they can help alert you. Be willing to get feedback from them.


    Here are some of the signs to watch for:

    • Feelings of sadness or depression or what some describe as being "down in the dumps"
    • Constantly feeling tired or even exhausted
    • Loss of interest in your work or your home
    • Difficulty focusing - scattered thinking
    • Isolating yourself socially
    • Turning to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism
    • Feeling anxiety about death
    • Eating more -- or not eating -- in order to cope
    • Change in sleeping patterns
    • Feeling helpless or hopeless
    • Overreacting to small frustrations or annoyances

    There is no need to feel ashamed if you experience caregiver burnout. You are only human, after all. You're doing a tough job and sometimes it's just too much to endure. But the good news is that caregiver burnout is often preventable and even if it does occur, you can overcome it. Next time, we'll look at some strategies for dealing with caregiver burnout.

Published On: January 04, 2010