Caretaker Burnout

I get many calls these days about people caretaking for family members.  It’s a difficult and incredibly impactful service.  About 65 percent of older people with long-term needs rely exclusively on family and friends, and another 30 percent will supplement family care with paid providers and, perhaps at some point, hospice.

Psychology Today published an interesting article examining the differences between male and female caregivers.  It applies what I’ve said all along regarding the caregiving realm: men and women are different.

Women provide the majority of care to their spouses, parents, friends, and neighbors.  Biologically, women are the nurturers, so their caregiving role is more natural.  They wear many hats — the hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate, decision maker, and/or advocate.  Because nurturing is viewed as their natural role, women are expected to be caregivers and are often not very appreciated.  People are less likely to offer a woman help than a man because they don’t expect him to be able to change diapers, wash clothes, or cook.

Men, on the other hand, are generally the providers, protectors, and fixer-uppers.  That’s their biological programming.  Therefore, men see caretaking as a task, and the illness as something to fix.  And when they can’t fix it, they feel like failures, which leads them to depression.  So, men really need help to understand that they are not failures because they can’t fix the people they’re caring for.

With this in mind, you can see why divorce rates are much higher when a wife is sick.  Basically speaking, men don’t handle the caretaking role as well.  We’ve all heard stories of men in positions of political power who abandon or fool around on their wives who are seriously ill. 

Unlike men, women like to talk about stress.  Men get a lot of relief by not talking.  Instead, they do guy stuff – e.g. going out and playing golf for two hours.  That’s what really helps them let go of stress. 

Caregiving Burnout
Whether you’re a male or female caregiver, there are common warning signs you’re burnt out:

* You don’t have as much energy 
* You catch every cold or flu that’s going around 
* You’re constantly exhausted even after you’ve slept
* You start neglecting your own needs, either because you’re too busy or you just don’t care anymore 
* Your whole life revolves around caregiving, and you find absolutely no other satisfaction 
* You can’t relax, even when help appears 
* You get increasingly impatient and irritable with the person you’re caretaking 
* You feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless

You burn out as a caretaker when you’re trying to take on all the responsibilities of caregiving on your own.  You’re not taking breaks or getting assistance.  And it’s really tough to yank yourself back from a burnout. 

So, when you start feeling the symptoms, it’s time to take some action and get more help.  You need to find somebody to take care of the paperwork and the yard, or find someone to come over and cook.  You need to bring in other people.  Whether they’re volunteers, paid helpers, family, or friends taking turns, you’re going to need help.  If you try to take it all on yourself, you’ll make yourself emotionally and physically sick, and you won’t even be at your best for the person you’re trying to help.