• Blog Post
  • Lee Elliott

Transform Your Caregiving Approach with Teamwork

Photo: hidesy / Shutterstock
Providing care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia is a heavy task. Caring for someone who is deeply engulfed in the latter stages of dementia is itself a round-the-clock job. As such, it’s not difficult to see how Alzheimer’s caregivers can get easily burned out from their responsibilities. The Alzheimer’s Association identifies 10 symptoms of caregiver stress that contribute to burnout. These symptoms can include:
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Health problems
There’s no question that watching a loved one cope with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias (ADRD) can place a heavy emotional toll on a caregiver. A parent or spouse may reach a point where they no longer recognize you, and experiencing this gradual decline firsthand can be quite painful for caregivers. In fact, depression among caregivers has been measured between 40 and 70 percent.
The emotional toll from caregiving can extend to physical exhaustion as well. The stress and strain from caregiving can weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to health problems. This general fatigue can combine with irregular sleep patterns and unstable diet to make matters even worse for may caregivers.

Caregiving costs more than money.

The cost of caring for someone can hit your wallet hard—your expenses can include doctor visits, prescription drugs, respite care, adult day care services, in-home care, and safety modifications made to the home. The average out-of-pocket health care costs for a person with ADRD can spike to five times higher than the per-person expenses for a senior who isn’t impacted by such a diagnosis.
According to caregiver.org, family caregivers for people with ADRD spend an average of 24.4 hours per week providing care. These responsibilities often demand time away from work, which can eat away at their hours and earnings. If your responsibilities as a caregiver keep you away from your home or your family, this can also lead to a buildup of guilt—perhaps, for example, worrying that the hours you spend providing care are hours that you are not at home caring for and spending time with your own family.
This tide of emotions can lead caregivers to think, “I have no right to complain. The person I’m caring for clearly has it much worse than I do.” While maintaining the proper perspective is one thing, caregivers often feel like they are not “allowed” to feel any pain of their own—and as a result, they can sometimes be too ashamed to ask for help, even when they desperately need it.
The very things that might bolster a caregiver—such as going out with friends or engaging in hobbies—are the very things that are often sacrificed the most. Caregivers can find themselves too busy to engage in any social activities and become detached from their friends and interests.
The time and effort required when caring for someone can put a damper on your own household duties. Even simple chores like mowing the lawn or tidying up the kitchen can become backlogged due to time restraints. And falling behind on your own household responsibilities can trigger further feelings of burnout.

Reach out, and build your team.

Fortunately, there are many resources available for caregivers that can help foster real connection, bolster spirits, and keep caregivers going strong. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association is dedicated to helping caregivers battle burnout and has offered some practical, positive resources to support their demanding work:
  • They facilitate an online community that includes more than 9,000 registered members who engage in supportive chat rooms and message boards.
  • Their 24/7 helpline provides round-the-clock information and support to caregivers who call and need assistance.
  • A directory helps caregivers locate their local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.
  • Caregiver training resources include books, DVDs, and workshops that are available to help introduce new caregivers to their responsibilities.
  • Information about the financial side of caregiving is readily available to help people better understand and prepare for the expenses they may incur, and ways to cope with/defray some of those costs.
  • Legal resources are available to help caregivers get wills and other documents in proper order.
This is just one toolkit—many such communities exist online—but the concept that drives them is incredibly powerful. As an old maxim states, “Teamwork can divide the process and multiply the success.” One of the best ways caregivers can avoid burnout is to build a cooperative team rather than trying to take on the task individually. Collaborate with close friends and relatives in the area and divide up care by shifts or by duties.
Perhaps one person can handle scheduling and escorting the person to medical appointments, while another person is put in charge of cooking meals, and a third is responsible for cleaning the home. The more you can spread out the responsibilities of caregiving, the less of a burden will fall on any one person.
Pinpointing the sources of caregiver burnout is the first step in regaining control of the situation and pivoting in a positive direction. By making that first effort to reach out and connect with peers, particularly through social networking, you may find that support is available where you least expected to find it.

Lee Elliott is a writer from the Raleigh, NC area. He loves meditation, running, and long walks with his Yorkshire Terrier. You can find more of his writing here.