How to Cope With Alzheimer’s Caregiver Burnout

You are watching your once mentally sharp loved one decline before your eyes. Their unpredictable behaviors, mood swings, confusion, and memory loss cause deep concern. The fear that your loved one may wander off, fall down or have some other accident is overwhelming.

Family caregivers often struggle to balance dementia care while working, prioritizing self-care, and coping with feelings of grief. For a caregiver, stress levels can be intense. Without strong support systems in place, Alzheimer’s caregiver burnout can set in, affecting the physical and mental health of caregivers and dementia patients alike.

Alzheimer’s Caregivers’ Stress Levels

Most family caregivers experience an increased amount of stress. However, multiple studies have confirmed that dementia caregivers endure higher levels of caregiver burden than non-dementia caregivers. The Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement reports that nearly 60 percent of dementia caregivers rate their emotional stress levels as high or very high.

An analysis of several studies on mental health disorders among Alzheimer’s caregivers found that the prevalence of depression was 34 percent and anxiety was 43.6 percent. When it comes to the physical effects of chronic stress, dementia caregivers are at a higher risk for changes in brain structure, inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune syndromes.

How to Beat Alzheimer’s Caregiver Burnout

A uniquely challenging aspect of being an Alzheimer’s caregiver is the fact that a dementia patient’s needs and behaviors can change dramatically without warning. If a caregiver is experiencing physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion as a result of burnout, it’s more difficult to deal with the ups and downs of fluctuating dementia behaviors. The following steps will help you identify the early signs of Alzheimer’s caregiver burnout and act quickly to remedy it, benefiting both you and your care recipient.

Identify the Signs of Caregiver Burnout

Caregiver burnout is characterized by emotional exhaustion, negativity, and decreased feelings of personal accomplishment. While many caregivers do not immediately think of their responsibilities as a “job,” research shows that the average caregiver spent 23.7 hours per week providing care in 2020.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s patients typically live four to eight years after diagnosis but can live up to 20 years. Since AD is a progressive disease, dementia caregivers can expect their responsibilities and stress levels to steadily increase over time.

The best way to recognize and prevent burnout is for dementia caregivers to educate themselves on the signs. Be sure to look for the following symptoms of Alzheimer’s caregiver burnout:

  • Fatigue
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Feeling sad, hopeless, worried, or overwhelmed
  • Mood swings (anger and irritability)
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Physical symptoms of stress, such as headaches, body aches, or digestive issues

Caregiver burnout can creep up on even the most experienced and resilient person. Practicing self-awareness and being honest with yourself about your feelings can ensure you catch the warning signs early on.