How to Avoid Burnout when Caregiving

Experts in the field of geriatric care estimate there are 44+ million family caregivers in the United States; approximately 23 million households. Family caregivers provide long-term care in the home of those with chronic illness or disabilities. Assuming the role of a family caregiver can involve love, compassion, obligation, guilt, pride and even financial circumstances. Whatever the motivation, it is a difficult task which sometimes finds caregiversgeriatric-care substituting the close family relationship, like mother-daughter, for a patient-healthcare provider relationship. Geriatric care managers can provide guidance and support for family caregivers.

Trying to balance work, caring for children and family and the special long-term care needs of a loved one doesn’t leave much time to research and find resources and support.  Sometimes a tired but dedicated family caregiver may find it difficult to reach out – asking for help does not mean you have failed. Here are a number of ways to avoid burnout.


Journaling is a good place for caregivers to gain some perspective on the situation and themselves. B. Lynn Goodwin, author of “You Want Me To Do What? Journaling for Caregivers“, explains why caregivers should journal. “Journals never argue. They let you vent, expound, rationalize, elaborate, and imagine best and worst outcomes. They let you breathe. A journal welcomes your questions and invites you to explore and analyze possible answers. Journals never talk back. Journals let you finish your thoughts and offer silent, unconditional acceptance.”  What caregivers learn about themselves through journaling can be beneficial when reaching out to a geriatric care manager for help.

Caring for the Caregiver

Most family caregivers are not trained professionals. Mastering tasks like assistance with daily living activities (e.g. bathing and dressing) the individual may be on-the-job training. Each day brings new challenges; doctor appointments, transfers from bed to wheelchair, meals, mental stimulation beyond the television. And if the caregiver is part of the sandwich generation it can take a toll on body, mind and spirit.

Respite Programs

Respite care, temporary time away from caregiving, is an option geriatric care managers can help find. These short-term programs allow the caregiver to get much needed and deserved time to rest, relax and recharge as well as attend to important business matters that may have been put off.

Many assisted living communities offer respite stay programs which include apartments and services for a defined short period of time such as 5-10 days. If they are able, guests are welcome to participate in activities and meals with other residents of the community. Geriatric care managers can help interpret the respite stay agreement which should spell out the services included and costs. There may be an initial resident assessment to make certain the community staff is able to match care needs with services. If the needs are greater than the assisted living community is able to offer, geriatric care managers may suggest respite services at a nursing home. These respite services are designed for individuals with more medically complex needs.

Respite in the Home

Some home care, home health care and community social service organizations offer in-home respite services. Geriatric care managers can help families find these services and provide support during the selection process. Special attention should be paid to caregiver qualifications and training and how the organization monitors care services while the family caregiver is gone.

Day Services

Respite day services can be found at some adult day care or community centers. This is a good option especially for family caregivers who work outside the home.  Services may include: health, therapeutic and social activity programs. Some centers offer services specifically for those with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.  Once again geriatric care managers can help sort out all the options and match programs with needs. Family caregivers will find the National Adult Day Services Association web site very helpful.

Support and Information

One of the best support organizations for family caregivers is the National Alliance for Caregiving. Their website has a wealth of information and resources including publications and tips.

Written by senior care expert Peg Witham

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