Handling Caregiver Burnout When Caring for a Loved One with Dementia

When you’re caring for a loved one who’s been diagnosed with dementia, you may already be familiar with the feeling of caregiver burnout. Memory care can be an overwhelming job, and it’s normal to experience stress and fatigue.

Sometimes, because dementia isn’t always identified in its earliest stages, family members often begin providing care long before there’s a diagnosis. By the time a doctor confirms that a loved one has dementia, those providing care may already be feeling physical and mental stress.

Causes of Burnout

Getting a diagnosis can be scary. As the disease progresses, your loved one’s needs become more demanding and burnout begins. Several factors contribute to the feeling of unrelieved exhaustion and stress. Two of the biggest factors are below:

Overload. It’s not unusual for some people to provide care to more than one family member. In addition to your loved one diagnosed with dementia, you may have children or another parent (or both) who need help. If you’re in this position, the load may be more than you can bear alone.

Feeling out of control. Caring for someone who has a dementia diagnosis can be an unpredictable journey. Between this unpredictability and the toll that caregiving can take on finances, it may seem as if life is spiraling out of control.

How To Tell When You’re Burned Out

A person who has handled caregiving for a long time may become so used to fatigue and stress that they may not recognize the signs of burnout. It’s easy to become more isolated from others. Friends and family may comment that they rarely see you. 

You also may no longer enjoy your favorite activities and are feeling increased anxiety, loneliness, or anger. You may even rely on alcohol, food, nicotine or other substances to deal with your feelings. 

These are all indications that you’re becoming overwhelmed.

How To Prevent Burnout

Remember your own health care. Try to eat and rest properly. Keep your own medical appointments as often as possible. 

Get help from those close to you. You may feel guilty asking family or friends for their help, but there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you can’t do everything. Try asking for specific tasks such as running errands or keeping your loved one who’s been diagnosed with dementia company for a short while.

Seek help from community resources. Houses of worship and community resource groups can be a good source of advice and information on how to handle the day-to-day struggles of this type of care.

Join a caregiver support group. Sometimes confiding in and listening to others who have the same struggles is a big relief. Either your loved one’s doctor or your own can probably recommend resources. 

What To Do When You’re in the Middle of Burnout

Check to see if your employer provides family leave benefits. You may be eligible for time away from work to help your loved one without worrying about your workload.

Look into getting help from a home health care agency. Your loved one’s medical coverage may provide for in-home care, so you can take periodic breaks and sometimes get substantial help. 

At some point, you may have to decide that you just can’t care for your loved one at home anymore. Memory care communities have trained staff specializing in dementia care. Choosing to use residential care is tough, but it may be necessary for everyone’s safety and well-being. 

You’ve made the choice to care for someone else. You also deserve to care for your own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.