How to avoid caregiver burnout

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Stress can wear out caregivers if they do not lighten their loads.

Caring for an aging or sick relative is not always so easy. In addition to the physical demands of caring for such loved ones, tending to sick people can take a mental toll, potentially contributing to a condition referred to as caregiver stress.

Women are more likely than men to serve as caregivers to elderly or disabled adults. That increases their risk for caregiver stress, says the Office on Women's Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Mayo Clinic notes that caring for a loved one can strain even the most resilient person. It can be quite difficult to be a person's sole caregiver and witness a loved one's health deteriorate due to a debilitating illness. As the population ages, nearly 80 percent of the long-term care that takes place in the United States is overseen by people who are not healthcare professionals, including daughters, granddaughters sisters, and aunts.

Caregiver stress can manifest itself in many different ways, including physical and emotional problems. The following are some ways to handle the stress of caring for a sick and/or elderly relative.

  • Investigate available resources. Explore all of the opportunities in your area that may relieve some of the burden of caring for your loved one. These may include in-home visiting care services, meal delivery, adult activity programs, and more.
  • Ask for help. Find out if responsibilities can be split among other family members, giving each person a chance to rest and recuperate.
  • Get physical. Physical activity in any form can help reduce stress and improve feelings of well-being, offers the Alzheimer's Association. Go for a walk, take an exercise class or ride a bicycle. Expect to feel more relaxed and less stressed after physical activity.
  • Speak with a therapist. Discuss your feelings with someone not directly related to your family or circle of friends. Caregivers may have feelings of anger, depression and anxiety, and may even be in denial about how much care this person really needs. Talking about your feelings with a professional can put them into perspective.
  • Focus on things you can control. You may not be able to cure the illness or disability, but there are things in your control. Rather than dwelling on things beyond your control, try to improve the things you can control.
  • Try to have fun. It's easy to make caregiving the only part of your life. However, you have to leave room for letting off steam. Don't feel guilty about going out with friends or a spouse. Make time for yourself.

Caregiver stress is a very real thing that negatively affects the health and well-being of caregivers. Some simple coping methods can relieve some of that stress, as can the assistance of trained professionals.

Adult day programs offer respite for caregivers, as well as socialization, structure assistance with personal care needs, medication management and daily activities to stimulate mind and body. Bella Vita Adult Day program at 22 Wampanaog Trail in East Providence has experienced staff and offers these services.

Another option is assisted living. Bella Villa Assisted Living at 336 Willett Ave. is a small community with a home like feel offering individualized and personalized care. They will be starting a caregiver support group at the Wampanaog Trail location soon.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.