If you're caring for a loved one with dementia, you've probably experienced some rewarding moments as a caregiver. But the challenges of providing care for someone with dementia can become overwhelming. Despite how much you love the person you're caring for, it’s not uncommon to suffer from burnout and need a break. In fact, research shows that family caregivers face a slew of physical and mental health problems due to the strain of caregiving.
It's important to recognize the signs that it's time to take a break and recharge both physically and mentally. Take time for self-evaluation and be honest with yourself. Are you running on empty? Is your life out of balance? All of the following may be signs that you're nearing or already experiencing burnout, and are overdue for a break and some much needed self-care.
- Increased anger and irritation
If you find yourself losing your temper easily and getting angry with your loved one, or becoming increasingly short-tempered with other family members, it can be a sign that you're suffering caregiver burnout. You may find your frustrations mounting as new obstacles and challenges arise, or if your loved one repeats the same behavior over and over. You may also notice that you raise your voice in anger more than ever before.
- Sleep issues
Caregiving can be physically demanding, as well as mentally demanding if your loved one wanders or has disrupted sleep. Your own sleep may become disrupted as you find yourself having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, and waking up tired.
- Emotional outbursts
It's only natural to feel a wide array of emotions, such as grieving and sadness, when caring for a loved whose condition is declining, but if you're becoming more emotional and fragile, it may signal that it's time for a break. Feelings of despair, dramatic mood swings, and unexpected crying are all signs of emotional overload. Remember, depression and increased anxiety are real risks for caregivers.
- Physical ailments
Reaching a breaking point as a caregiver can include a rough cycle of mental and emotional stress leading to physical disorders - which add to the stress you're already experiencing. You may find yourself getting headaches and colds more frequently (and more intensely) than usual, or develop chronic pain such as neck and back pain. Perhaps you've even developed high blood pressure. While you may intend to take better care of yourself, you probably lack the time to do so, which only adds to your stress.
It can be easy to become isolated as a full-time caregiver, so much so that it may seem at times like you never see another adult besides the loved one you're caring for. Or, you may feel like other family members don't care as much about your loved one as you do, or that they don't understand the depth of your daily caregiving responsibilities.
Your loved one's behavior may make you feel that it's too risky to spend any time away and, intentionally or not, you've become withdrawn. Social isolation can add to your stress instead of re-energizing you like being with others can.
- Lack of energy or motivation
There are many ways that lethargy can manifest itself, from a lack of energy, a decreased desire for trying to accomplish things, to feeling sluggish after a good night's rest, or finding it hard to concentrate when you're reading or doing other mental tasks. Performing the same routines daily as a caregiver can leave you feeling like you're stuck in a rut, even if those routines enable your loved one to thrive. And some routines, like managing your loved one's finances, can be more confusing and challenging than others.
- Family complaints
As a caregiver, it can seem like a better solution to take on the entire burden of care, feeling that you are the only one capable of keeping everything under control. It's hard to imagine another way of doing things when you're on the "front lines" and caring for your loved one on a daily basis.
But everyone needs help sometimes, so it’s important to be open to family and friends who may suggest that you're not spending enough time with your other loved ones, or are neglecting the things that once gave you joy. You may even find yourself in an increasing number of arguments with other family members about your loved one's care. It's important to be willing to enlist help, whether via unpaid assistance from loved ones or paid respite care.