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Caring for Aging Parents and Seniors: You Or Someone You Love May Have Caregiver Burnout And/Or Compassion Fatigue

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Whether you are caring for aging parents or whether you care for seniors professionally, the job can be overwhelming in the best of times. Recently, this is even more true.

The world has been negotiating the COVID-19 pandemic now for a full year. The effects of social distancing, quarantining, working from home, home schooling, caring for elderly family members, an inability to travel, along with so many other restrictions are taking their toll. Everyone is feeling the stress but no one more so than those who are caregivers. This includes caregivers for hire as well as the untold thousands of unpaid family members who juggle careers and children as well as aging parents.

 

Recognize The Differences

Family caregivers have been struggling with caregiver burnout for longer than most can remember. The term “compassion fatigue” was penned in the early 1990’s when registered nurse Carla Joinson described a unique form of burnout that affected caregivers and resulted in a “loss of the ability to nurture.” https://www.dvm360.com/view/compassion-fatigue-and-burnout-history-definitions-and-assessment

It is not surprising that this term has resurfaced during COVID-19. While they may seem to be the same, it is important to recognize that caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue are not the same. According to the experts, compassion fatigue is more treatable than burnout, but it can be less predictable. It seems that compassion fatigue may come on suddenly or without much warning, while caregiver burnout typically develops over time.

 

Compassion Fatigue 

According to one source, “Some describe compassion fatigue as empathy fatigue, a biological and physiological response where you are so exhausted—physically, emotionally, psychologically—that it becomes difficult to care or feel for others. You feel “done.”

And the fatigue doesn’t stop when you’ve finished caregiving for the day. You plop on the couch, turn on the TV, and there it is—news of the pandemic crisis on every station. It’s in the headlines; it’s on the radio. It feels like there’s no escaping it.” https://www.synergyhomecare.com/blog/posts/2020/august/relief-for-family-caregivers-hit-with-compassion-fatigue-during-covid-19/

 

Heed The Signs Of Caregiver Burnout And Compassion Fatigue

While there are differences between caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue, they are both serious and important to acknowledge. If you have a caregiver and notice any of the warning signs listed below, find a way to give him or her the time they need to rest and take care of their own health. If you are the caregiver, by all means ask for help. Take some time out for yourself. When there is a will, there is a way. Find something that will give you the time and peace you require. It may be as simple as a daily walk outside or a consistent meditation practice. Whatever it may be, insist on having it because the cost to you and your loved ones will be too great if you cannot nourish yourself and rejuvenate your innate desire to tend to those in your care.


Recognize The Symptoms And Warning Signs
While the symptoms of compassion fatigue may sound scary, they’re actually helpful as they are telling you that your “giving reserves are low,” and sending a warning that it’s time to rebalance your life. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, please take time to take care of you first. If someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, perhaps you can help in some small way.

  • Insomnia
  • Less interest in caregiving duties
  • Feeling more stress
  • Being traumatized by caregiving activities and functions
  • Irritability
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Blaming others for your suffering
  • Isolating yourself
  • Loss of pleasure in life
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical and mental fatigue
  • Bottling up your emotions
  • Feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Frequent complaining
  • Overeating
  • Poor self-care
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Resentment toward the person you’re caring for