Caregiver Burnout: What it is & How We Help Prevent it
Caregivers are unsung heroes, providing love and support for the chronically ill without any regard for their own well-being. Whether by shuttling someone to doctor’s appointments or helping with basic household needs, caregivers are selflessly devoted to making someone else’s life better.
In the United States, one in 10 people identify as a caregiver for a person over the age of 50. Though it can be very fulfilling, the caregiver role can also be exhausting and overwhelming. As common as it is to be a caregiver, we still don’t talk enough about how the experience can be incredibly isolating and have a negative impact on the caregivers’ mental and physical health.
One startling piece of evidence highlighting the risk of being a caregiver is that they have increased levels of depression symptoms and mental health issues. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, caregivers are more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diminished immune response. Additionally, caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments, including acid reflux, headaches, and bodily pain. Considering that one-third of older adults are caregivers, and that they spend an average of 24 hours a week supporting their loved ones, healthcare providers have to ask themselves an important question: who cares for caregivers?
How To Avoid Caregiver Burnout
“Serving as a caregiver is an honor for many people, and part of Prospero’s care model is ensuring these caregiving heroes receive the support and resources they need,” says Lisa Vitucci, Prospero’s National Social Work Director.
The Prospero care teams strive to support the whole person and the whole family. In practice, this means we take on responsibilities like coordinating care among providers, so that our patients and their loved ones have more time to enjoy the here and now. We understand the challenges faced by caregivers impact their relationships with the person in their care, with other members of the support network, and with themselves.
Common Burnout Signs For Caregivers
The issue of “caregiver burnout” is closely monitored by Prospero clinicians and can manifest in a variety of ways:
- A primary caregiver can become overwhelmed and begin to resent their responsibilities, which in turn makes the person under their care feel like a burden.
- Frustration and communication issues can build when one family member feels that the others aren’t pulling their weight in terms of caregiving duties.
- When a caregiver’s duties grow, they can start to lose touch with their other identities, such as spouse, parent, child, and friend.
For those who serve or have served as a caregiver, these examples are all too familiar, and are why Prospero places such a strong emphasis on identifying and meeting caregivers’ needs. Prospero’s caregiver services include:
- Conducting a caregiver stress assessment when seeing a new patient
- Providing a proprietary caregiver guidebook to families
- Offering a caregiver support group program
The Caregiver Check-in Assessment
“Our caregiver assessment is facilitated by the social worker on the care team,” says Lisa Vitucci. “Witnessing the decline of a loved one brings up practical concerns, such as the cost of a home health aide, as well as emotional [concerns]. If a caregiver wants support from our social worker, we collaborate with them to figure out what the best intervention would be.”
One goal of the assessment is to ensure Prospero doesn’t add to the caregiver’s burden. Some caregivers like in-person visits from a social worker, while others prefer a phone call. In keeping with our person-centered care model, Prospero social workers always follow the caregiver’s lead.
In addition to the caregiver assessment, Lisa Vitucci was also instrumental in developing Prospero’s “Caregiver Compass,” a comprehensive guidebook that includes tools for navigating the healthcare system, resources about self-care, and a journal where caregivers can document their loved one’s story, as well as their own.
“This comprehensive support benefits both caregivers and patients,” Lisa says. “If we can lessen caregiver burnout, we know our patient will continue to receive the best care available.”