Of the many troubling, challenging, and distressing aspects of dementia, the impact of the disease on those close to the patient is often overlooked. For family caregivers and spouses, coping with the changes in their loved one can be traumatic, and can take a significant toll on their own mental health.
Burnout from caring for your spouse is a common side effect of life as a caregiver, but it is one that is all too often neglected when it comes to discussions about Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia more generally.
In this article we are going to examine the phenomenon of spouse caregiver burnout, and explore the various avenues family caregivers have for coping with it.
Spouse caregiver burnout
What is caregiver burnout?
Spouse caregiver burnout can be tricky to accurately describe, as it encompasses a wide range of emotions, feelings, mental health issues, behaviors, and physical symptoms. It often manifests itself in a similar way to a drawn-out depressive episode, highlighted by numbness and panic attacks, and feeling of helplessness and futility.
Burnout is defined by the World Health Organization as an occupational phenomenon, but caregiver burnout results from responsibilities other than the purely professional. It is distinct from stress caused by caregiving, or traumatic emotions caused by grief, and is often accompanied by a feeling of disconnection, of having been ground down, and unable to feel normal emotions.
How difficult can the shift from spouse to caregiver be?
Going from spouse to caregiver can be an incredibly challenging life change. Your entire relationship with your loved one changes, from an equal partnership to a far more one-sided affair with responsibilities, duties, and a power imbalance. This shift is almost always made even more difficult as dementia progresses, due to the deleterious effects the disease has on your loved one’s behavior, emotions, personality, and memories.
What causes spouse caregiver burnout?
Spouse caregiver burnout is caused by the responsibilities that come from caring for a loved one without sufficient support, resources, and assistance. Caregivers need help and support almost as much as those they care for, and without it they will be stretched too thinly, take on too much, and neglect their own mental and physical health.
Caregiving can be deeply disruptive to a caregiver’s life, resulting in the loss of everyday relationships, habits, and hobbies. Caregivers also often have to cope with the difficult behaviors of their loved one, which can be hurtful and cause isolation and loneliness.
Caregiver burnout is also caused by a lack of separation between the role of partner and the role of caregiver, an inability to manage expectations, and a lack of personal control - whether over financial issues, general life direction, or social and emotional aspects.
How do you know if you have caregiver burnout?
One of the biggest problems with spouse caregiver burnout is that it can be extremely difficult to self-diagnose. Many caregivers brush off problems and bad feelings as just part of the ‘job’. However, there are some tell-tale signs, and caregivers should be on the lookout for certain behaviors and symptoms.
The most common warning signs of caregiver burnout are:
- A shift in your feelings towards your loved one, from loving to negative or ambivalent
- Isolation and avoiding friends and family
- A lack of interest in interests, hobbies, and pastimes that used to bring you joy
- Feelings of irritability, depression, extreme tiredness, hopelessness, and futility
- Alterations in normal behaviors such as eating, exercising, and sleeping
- Weight loss
- Frequent, unusual illness
How to cope with spouse caregiver burnout
If you believe you are experiencing caregiver burnout, there are a number of things you can do. Here are some of the most helpful coping mechanisms.
Join a caregiver support group
One of the most helpful things you can do is to find a community of other people who are going through the same things you are. Caregiver support groups provide a safe place to discuss issues, share experiences, or just enjoy the company of people who understand what is going on in your life. Support groups are great sources of knowledge, advice, and practical guidance, as well as a way to connect with others when making connections is tough.
Seek outside help
It can be difficult to admit that you need help, but caregiving is an extremely challenging responsibility, and you don’t have to go through it alone! Taking advantage of the services that an organization like Senior Helpers can provide can help to share the load, removing the burden of various aspects of care, and allowing you to readjust your relationship with your partner. Senior Helpers provides a range of in-home care services, from Azheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia care to companion care and respite care.
Focus on self-care
While your primary focus as a caregiver will be on your spouse or loved one, you need care and attention too! Self-care can be difficult, but it is vitally important to pay attention to your own needs, and your own mental and physical health. Taking a little time out of every day to check in with yourself and do something nice, even something as simple as going for a walk or meditating, can be very helpful.
Try to focus on the positive
When caring for a loved one it is all too easy to fall into a doom spiral where everything seems grim and hopeless. So focusing on the positives, whatever they are, is incredibly important for maintaining the right attitude and fighting off feelings of futility and helplessness.
Do date nights to spark that romantic love again
One of the main problems of caring for a spouse is the change in the balance and nature of the relationship, from romantic partners to caregiver and patient. So reminding yourself of the romantic nature of your relationship can be a valuable tool. Try and plan date nights, or pamper yourselves as a couple, in order to rekindle the loving feelings between you and your spouse.
Ask for help from friends or family
Family caregiving doesn’t have to be the sole responsibility of the spouse. Asking for help from friends or family can be a good way of spreading the burden. You can ask for direct help in caring for your loved one, or more indirect help in picking up the day-to-day responsibilities that you might find difficult such as grocery shopping. Anything that helps lift the load can be a help.
See a therapist
Speaking to a professional is a great way to ensure that you are not damaging your own mental health with your caregiving responsibilities.
How Senior Helpers can help
As discussed in the article above, spouse caregiver burnout can be a serious problem for family caregivers. Caring for a loved one is a huge responsibility, and can often lead to caregivers neglecting their own needs and physical and mental health.
The article above explores a number of ways that caregivers can help prevent or mitigate burnout. One of the most effective solutions is to cut it off at the source by seeking external help from an organization like Senior Helpers.
Senior Helpers can provide the peace of mind you need with a range of sensitive, compassionate in-home care services, that ensure that your loved one is happy, safe, and cared-for, and that you are looked after as well!
By choosing Senior Helpers for a loved one, you’re not just getting exceptional care for any of their needs, but you’re gaining a genuine, in-home connection designed to give them the absolute best quality of life. All our caregivers are extensively vetted, and alongside their formal duties will also provide a level of companionship and connection that can be a great help for loved ones with dementia.