THE JUGGLING ACT OF CAREGIVER FATIGUE
PARENTS GIVE EVERYTHING TO THEIR CHILDREN.
Food, shelter, and, most importantly, love and support.
As the children enter middle adulthood and parents ascend into late adulthood, these roles tend to reverse. The provider becomes the provided for. This may be particularly true for families that have parental care interwoven with their cultural heritage, such as has been seen with Mexican American families (see Clark & Huttlinger, 1998).
Why does that matter?
Although providing for our parents is an important and valuable part of our culture, caregivers face a complex form of stress related to poor health outcomes. A study by Schulz and Beach (1999) found that, in comparing caregivers versus non-caregivers age 66 – 96, the caregivers had a 63% higher risk of death than the non-caregivers. In other words, the stress of caregiving may be related to an elevated mortality risk.
That relationship between the stress and deteriorating health is known as caregiver fatigue.
What exactly is caregiver fatigue?
If you are reading this article, you or someone you know is likely providing care for a parent or elder. Although people love and want to support their parents, their responsibilities and duties tend to spread them too thin. Here at Diamond Bar Counseling in California, we help people find ways of managing caregiver fatigue. But what is it?
Caregiver fatigue, simply put, is the exhaustion that results from bearing the demands of work and/or childrearing while providing care to an elder. Some also consider caregiver fatigue to stem from not enough self-care (taking time to rest, relax, be active, etc.).
Caregiver fatigue is a lot like a juggling act. The caregiver is constantly keeping everything in motion, ignoring their own needs. Eventually, the exhaustion of keeping balls from dropping leads to complete collapse.
How do we recognize it?
Here are some easy-to-detect signs of caregiver fatigue:
SIGN #1: Being a Woman
Women tend to be most often found in caregiver roles.
A study by Kramer and Kipnis (1995) found that women, compared to men, were much more likely to be caregivers. However, men and women were found to be affected by caregiver fatigue when their roles as caregivers were similar. Furthermore, women without a spouse or partner were found to be at the highest risk of caregiver fatigue.
SIGN #2: Raising Kids, Caring for Elders
Many psychologists refer to middle-late adults as the “sandwich generation.”
In other words, they are sandwiched between raising their own children while also providing care for their increasingly deteriorating parents. Imagine the stress of raising rowdy teens while also managing medications for mom.
SIGN #3: Employment
Working while caring for an elder can also be an added stressor.
In many ways, elder care can become a second shift. You come home after devoting your energy into generating income, yet the work must continue to help keep mom or dad healthy. Full-time students may also feel these same effects.
To read more about the hidden costs of caring for an elder while being employed, see the article by Fast, Williamson, and Keating (1999).
SIGN #4: No Time for Self-Care
Are you constantly going from one duty to the next, working nonstop from the time the alarm goes off until you finally have time to sleep?
This is perhaps the most important warning sign of caregiver fatigue. Caring for one’s parents and children while being employed may be manageable if one practices good self-care. However, taking care of oneself takes time – time that most caregivers do not have.
For more on self-care practices, check out Diamond Bar Counseling’s article on self-care.
How can I cope with caregiver fatigue?
Do you suffer from caregiver fatigue? Do you feel alone, stressed, and overwhelmed by your responsibilities? Do you want to regain some freedom and energy in your life?
As a caregiver, you are providing an essential, noble, and loving service to someone who cares deeply for you. If you have ever flown on an airplane, you probably heard the attendant tell you that, in the event of loss of oxygen in the cabin, you must put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
You need to prioritize your own care so that you can continue this work. We suggest starting by working on your self-care strategies. Find ways to recharge your batteries and rest.
Another excellent way to manage caregiver fatigue is to talk about it with someone you trust.
At Diamond Bar Counseling, we can help you make it through this challenging experience.
Book your first session with us today! We would love to hear from you.
Clark, M., & Huttlinger, K. (1998). Elder care among Mexican American families. Clinical Nursing Research, 7(1), 64-81.
Fast, J. E., Williamson, D. L., & Keating, N. C. (1999). The hidden costs of informal elder care. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 20(3), 301-326.
Kramer, B. J., & Kipnis, S. (1995). Eldercare and work-role conflict: Toward an understanding of gender differences in caregiver burden. The Gerontologist, 35(3), 340-348.
Schulz, R., & Beach, S. R. (1999). Caregiving as a risk factor for mortality: the Caregiver Health Effects Study. Jama, 282(23), 2215-2219.