Caring for the Caregiver: How to Reduce Stress and Avoid Burnout
Caring for the elderly takes many forms. It might include assisting with personal care, such as bathing, grooming, and dressing; medical or nursing tasks, such as managing medications; help with mobility; meal preparation, and household chores. It’s no wonder that caring for an aging loved one can be physically taxing, emotionally draining, isolating, and stressful.
Unfortunately, many caregivers get so wrapped up in their role that they ignore their own health, says Michael Bobrowski, director of social services at United Hebrew of New Rochelle.
“I’ve seen caregivers so focused on their family member’s care that they skip their own doctor’s appointment and neglect their own medical health,” he explains. “It is vitally important that they take care of themselves, too. If they don’t, who will be there for their loved one?”
Caregiver burnout is a risk for the millions of Americans who care for aging relatives. A study found that about 34.2 million caregivers provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in one 12-month period.  Another study reported that nearly 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
It can be more stressful when caregivers care for someone with dementia, particularly for adult children, Bobrowski says.
“It’s difficult for adult children to see their parents decline because they’ve seen them in a certain light over the years. It becomes stressful when they can no longer do the things they have always done,” he notes. “It is so important to recognize and accept the changes taking place in your parents’ cognitive health because it will help you move forward.”
With an aging U.S. population, the demand for caregiving will grow. So how can caregivers learn to manage the stress associated with their role and avoid burnout?
3 Tips to Manage Caregiver Stress
Bobrowski shares the following tips to help caregivers cope with stress, improve their health, and enhance their ability to care for their loved ones:
- Meet your loved ones where they are. Instead of trying to bring them back to a reality that’s not there anymore, learn to work with where they are. If they are re-living past memories, chat about whatever they are thinking; focus on feelings, not facts. Don’t push your parents to be someone they no longer are. Ask them to tell you more about what they are thinking. Sometimes a simple “tell me about it” will help spark a conversation. Practicing new conversational skills will help you forge an improved relationship with your aging loved one and reduce stress.
- Reach out for help. We are sometimes reluctant to ask for help. But there may be a neighbor, a friend, a relative, or if is feasible, a home care worker who can spend time with your loved one. Even just a few hours can be enough for you to take care of personal business, read a few chapters in a book, go shopping, or have some quiet time to yourself. Respite care is also a good option that offers caregivers the chance to recharge their batteries.
- Talk to others going through the same situation. It may feel like you are the only one going through what you are experiencing. United Hebrew offers support groups for people caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Attendees receive practical advice, learn about community resources, and improve their coping skills. It’s a tangible way to gain a sense of control over your situation.
 National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2015 Caregiving in the U.S.
 Alzheimer’s Association, 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.