What is Caregiver Fatigue and How to Deal with It Successfully?

By: Rosemarie Tamunday Casanova — RN, BSN, MHA

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Graphic Artwork by Tom Banogon

Emotional or mental illnesses are not only capable of affecting those patients with disabling diseases, but can also produce serious psychological disorders in their caregivers.

Caregiver Fatigue is a physical and emotional exhaustion caused by providing uninterrupted care for a chronically ill or disabled loved one for a prolonged period of time.

There are several caregiver tips that you can do to take care of yourself, stay healthy, and prevent caregiver fatigue, including the following:

While many of these caregivers dedicate their professional lives to this labor, many others, who happen to be family members or friends, see themselves in the obligation of making a 180 degrees turn in their lives in order to attend the incapacitated. While taking care of someone can result in an action that provokes great levels of gratification, it can often also be an enormous challenge for the caregiver, producing anxiety and other emotional problems such as caregiver fatigue.

What is Caregiver Fatigue?

photo of a tired caregiver
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According to the National Institute of Health, fatigue is a state of weariness following a period of exertion, mental or physical, characterized by a decreased capacity for work and reduced efficiency to respond to stimuli.

Caregiver Fatigue is physical and emotional exhaustion caused by providing uninterrupted care for a chronically ill, the elderly parents or disabled loved one for a prolonged period of time.

What Causes Caregiver Fatigue?

One of the many factors that may make caregivers develop caregiver fatigue is sacrificing their own needs in order to dedicate themselves to the one they cared for. The responsibility of taking care of another can often lead caregivers to neglect their own emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. Caregivers will often feel overwhelmed with the demands on their body, mind, and emotions, resulting in fatigue and hopelessness.

Lack of financial ability as well as the formal training to guide caregivers on how to properly perform tasks such as bathing, toileting, transferring, and administering medication may also result in anxiety and caregiver fatigue.

In addition, the experiences lived during the care period can usually push the limits of even the more capable and mentally sane individual.

Other factors that can lead to caregiver fatigue include:

Multiple Role: Caregivers are often busy with other responsibilities, such as work obligations and caring for other family members, which can affect their availability to care for their loved ones.

24/7 Care: Caregivers can become overwhelmed with providing 24-hour care, administering medications, scheduling consultations, and arranging trips to medical appointments without assistance from others.

Prolonged Exposure to Stress: Without interventions to relieve these stressors, the caregiver’s health may also begin to deteriorate.

Other Factors: There are many other factors that also contribute to caregiver fatigue and eventually make them unable to function. In some cases, they may become ill themselves.

Sad woman sitting on a couch
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What are the symptoms of caregiver fatigue?

The symptoms of caregiver fatigue are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression. Common symptoms that overwhelmed caregivers may exhibit include:

Healthcare providers may erroneously assume that caregivers are suffering from depression due to the declining health of their loved one. This may turn out to be dangerous both on the side of the caregiver and the chronically ill patient. That is why healthcare providers should use an assessment tool effective enough to determine the level of stress or depression state of an individual.

HealthinAging.org, created by the American Geriatrics Society’s Health in Aging Foundation developed the Caregiver Self Assessment Online to identify caregivers with high levels of stress. You can check out the assessment tool at Caregiver Self Assessment Interactive Tool. Based on the result of the questionnaire, the assessment tool can accurately identify caregiver fatigue and depression and can provide helpful recommendations.

Reaching out to help people with a caregiver fatigue syndrome
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How can I prevent caregiver fatigue?

The caregiver can take several steps to reduce fatigue and improve their physical and mental health. For example, engaging in social interaction with friends and family reduces caregiver depression and prevents social isolation.

Here are 7 great tips that you can undertake to help prevent caregiver fatigue:

1. Eat a healthy balanced diet and keep good nutrition habit

Both caregivers and care recipients need a healthy diet and adequate hydration during the day to avoid fatigue and illness. Keeping a nutrition as healthy as possible, taking vitamins, eating proteins, grains, fresh vegetables, and fruits. Avoid large meals, high fat foods and fluids before bedtime and also avoid the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

2. Do regular exercise

Set a goal to exercise a certain number of hours every week. Exercise is a powerful stress reliever and mood enhancer. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes on most days—break it up into three 10-minute sessions if that’s easier. When you exercise regularly, you’ll also find it boosts your energy level and helps you fight fatigue.

3. Attend social activities

Get out of the house, seek out friends, family, and home care providers to step in with caregiving so you can have some time away from the home. If it’s difficult to leave the house, invite friends over to visit with you over coffee, tea, or dinner.

4. Take regular breaks

Take at least 30 minutes each day to do something you enjoy, this can reduce stress and restore your mental outlook. Various activities can help to reduce stress levels, such as exercising, gardening, reading a book, or listening to music. Also set goals to establish a good sleep routine, not getting quality sleep over a long period of time can cause health issues. Meditation, prayer, and deep breathing exercises are also options to use for calming our minds and bodies so that we can sleep. These can also be done if one awakens during the night.

5. Prioritize hobbies and recreational activities that you enjoy

Make regular time for hobbies that bring you happiness, whether it’s reading, working in the garden, tinkering in your workshop, knitting, playing with the dogs, or watching the game. Daily activities, such as these can be used to reduce stress levels. Keep organising as best as possible, making a schedule with all the activities that need to be done, leaving some space for recreation.

6. Join a caregiver support group

Caregivers support groups offer a great place to share your troubles and find others who face similar circumstances every day. Most support groups offer both individual and group discussions about your problems, you will not only receive help but also help others.

Additionally, you'll discover you're not alone. Being able to talk with other people in the same situation can bring you comfort, and their knowledge can be invaluable, especially when they're taking care of someone with the same illness.

If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease, the Alzheimer's Association offers a search tool to help you connect with local support groups. If you can’t leave the house, many online groups are also available. AARP and Family Caregiver Alliance offer resources online and through Facebook discussion groups for caregivers; both organizations maintain an online support network that communicates in an email group.

7. Consider respite care

In most places, respite care is available for just a few hours or for a few weeks when you need it. In-home services, such as home health aides or adult day centers, can provide care for your loved one in those instances when you need some time for yourself.

Short-term nursing homes. Some assisted living homes, memory care homes and nursing homes accept people needing care for short stays while caregivers are away. For those who need a longer break, a residential care facility may provide overnight care. There is a drawback, though, since you must pay a fee for these services that is usually not covered by Medicare or insurance.

man busy taking care of his plants
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Takeaway

While caregiving is stressful for anyone, some groups tend to be at greater risk of deteriorating health and physical fatigue than others, so it’s important to consider what challenges are unique to you and then take appropriate actions to properly address the issues.

Additional Resources: Fatigue: Definition by NIH, Fatigue: Definition by Wikipedia, Time out! Recognizing Caregiver Fatigue, Fighting Caregiver Fatigue

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Rosemarie-Tamunday-Casanova

ROSEMARIE TAMUNDAY-CASANOVA, RN, BSN, MHAExecutive Administrator/Owner, RIGHT ACCORD Private Duty-Home Health Care

Rosemarie is a certified critical care registered nurse, has a degree in Legal Nurse Consulting and a Masters Degree in Health Administration. Rosemarie has extensive background in nursing from acute care, home care, nursing education and health care management and administration. Her longest career was a critical care nurse for Veterans HealthCare Administration. She is an approved Home Health Training Provider for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ADRD) by USF Training Academy on Aging.