Several social work courses in college and multiple experiences have left me convinced that every instructor I had was right—well, at least about this one thing: every caregiver needs regular breaks. I don’t just mean a regular annual vacation—though that is important, too—but steady, weekly breaks. If these aren’t daily, they should be at least weekly—bi-weekly at the very least.
When you don’t give yourself a break, lots of things can happen. In some cases, the burnout may affect the patient—whether he or she is an invalid, an elderly person, or a child or adult with developmental delays. He or she will pick up on your distress, and in extreme circumstances, the caregiver may even become harsh or violent.
But in most cases, this burnout heavily wears on the caregiver. Exhaustion and depression can result. Some people may even end up needing hospitalization themselves after such a lengthy time caring for another individual so one-sidedly—whether it’s complete round the clock care or even daily living assistance. As with caring with children, caregivers must be always “on,” and living like you’re walking on eggshells every day will eventually cause you to crack.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to prevent burnout. Here are just a few of them.
Hire respite care. Many states offer such care freely, and if they don’t, you can research to see what kind of budget you’ll need. The break, however, is important, no matter the cost. Many local babysitting agencies and assisted living facilities offer trained support.
Share responsibilities. Ask friends and loved ones for help. If the caregiver is a family member, the family should not rely solely on him or her for the full caretaking of the loved one. Shifts and alternate responsibilities can be arranged. Conflict within the family is almost sure to arise if care giving is left upon only one or two individuals—and those individuals are sure to be resentful and eventually burn out if not helped as well.
Provide regular breaks. If co-care cannot be arranged, other family members should strive to provide the primary care provider with regular weekly breaks. A day may be spent on outings with another family member, or weekend overnights can be arranged.
Hire help. If you can afford it, hire a nurse or trained caregiver for part-time help, whether it’s for a few days as week or for split shifts of care. Such help can be very expensive, of course, and will depend on the family’s budget.