Giving More Than You’ve Got – The Devastating Effects of Caregiver Burnout

The popular website Humans of New York recently interviewed a seemingly young woman about the stress of caring for her mother. An excerpt from the interview is as follows:

books“My ninety-year-old mother just moved in with us. So I’ve become a full time caretaker. I’m all she’s got. My father passed away and I’m her only child. So I’m it. Right now she has a lot of negativity. She seems to fixate on the negative side of things. If I suggest going outside, she’ll say it’s too cold. If I suggest that we go shopping, she’ll say there’s too much traffic. She wants her independence, but when she has it, she gets lonely. It’s hard for me. Because I’m a positive person by nature. And it’s hard to deal with so much negative energy. My husband is worried about me. He thinks it’s too much to deal with. I have a family, a life, and a business.”

Quote and Picture Credit:

According to AARP, the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother.  She is married and employed. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. More than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them.

The value of the services family caregivers provide for “free,” when caring for older adults, is estimated to be $375 billion a year. That is almost twice as much as is actually spent on homecare and nursing home services combined ($158 billion).  (Evercare Survey of the Economic Downturn and Its Impact on Family Caregiving; National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. March 2009.)

More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one. (Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP; November 2009)

Caregivers often are so busy caring for others that they tend to neglect their own emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver’s body, mind, and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and hopelessness — and, ultimately, burnout.   Caregivers often find themselves “sandwiched” between caring for their elderly loved one, and also caring for their young children or grandchildren.    Various studies cite that compared with non-caregivers, caregivers are more likely to suffer from diminished immune responses, slower wound healing, higher incidence of hospitalization, higher mortality rate, poorer general health, higher incidence of headaches, gastro-intestinal problems and insomnia, and an increased risk of heart disease. The mental effects are just as detrimental with many suffering from depression and anxiety disorders, increased rates of suicide, and alcohol and other substance abuse.

It does not have to be this way.

There are many resources available to caregivers to assist them with the day to day stress of tending to a loved one.   The Family Caregiver Alliance provides education and support group services to caregivers, and the AARP has an entire section dedicated to caregiver services on its website.   Additionally, insurance companies may cover brief stays in residential communities which can allow for caregivers to take a break.  This is also known as “respite care.”

An additional, lesser known option for caregivers is to consider Medicaid home based services.   In Delaware, Medicaid will offer home based care for a designated number of hours per day to a person who qualifies medically and financially.   The home based care can range from medical care to assistance with activities of daily living and companion care.   The ongoing support can be an invaluable resources to a caregiver.    The attorneys at Estate and Elder Law Services regularly assist clients in qualifying for Medicaid home based services.    Feel free to call us for more information.

In the meantime, check out these websites for more information on how to avoid Caregiver Burnout:

National Alliance for Caregiving:


Family Caregiver Alliance: