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How Caregiver Burnout Damages Our Brains

What is caregiver burnout or syndrome? Can it be prevented?

Work-related stress and burnout is frequently studied and talked about, but not too much has been studied specifically to caregiver burnout. Yet, it appears that it may be more than just stressful. It can have an impact on the brain, as well.

Caregiver Burnout

Why would there be stress from caring for someone you love? Work-related stress is often acknowledged, but is it true that a caregiver can end up with damage to one’s own brain from caring for someone else? The following describes how family caregiving really can create problems for the brain, and information follows as to what can be done to prevent it, too.

What Does Caregiver Burnout Look Like?

A family caregiver’s burnout may be recognized by the same symptoms of other types of stress and depression. The symptoms can vary, and include exhaustion, anger, social withdrawal, lack of appetite, weight control issues, sleep problems, extreme fatigue, digestive concerns, lowered immune function, and more. Although you won’t find “Caregiver Syndrome” listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, healthcare professionals often use this term when describing caregiver burnout and its negative effects.

An interesting post entitled, “The Effects of Caregiver Stress on the Body and Brain,” on the Alzheimer’s Care Resource Center website reports that caregiving often has a major impact on one’s overall physical health, especially when the caregiving lasts for extended periods of time.

The degree of burnout symptoms may be connected to the individual’s genetic traits, education, financial circumstances, and even previous mental conditions. With roughly 70% of caregivers suffering from depression, smart caregiving stress management must start with a self-monitoring and awareness. One must be aware of any developing symptoms, so things can be improved quickly. Just as with other chronic stress, caregiver burnout can harm the brain. Stress can trigger a chemical change in the brain that negatively impacts memory capacity and even decreases learning abilities.

Situational Versus Long-Term Stress

The role of caregiving can be challenging and is likely to test anyone’s emotions and psyche. Even short-term stress can make people irritable, anxious, tense, distracted and forgetful, but it can get worse from there. When caregivers deny their negative emotions, stress hormones (cortisol) levels can greatly increase and these elevated levels may, unfortunately, impact one’s physical, emotional and mental health in negative ways. Research on caregiver risks shows effects on immune and endocrine functioning, depression, cardiovascular disease, infectious disease and even risk of death. A Huffington Post article recently warned that severe life events may “harm your brain’s memory and learning capacity by reducing the volume of gray matter in brain regions associated with emotions, self-control and physiological functions.” Stated in plain words, chronic stress may shrink the brain.

Tips for Handling Caregiver Burnout Before It Damages your Brain

When you find stress levels climbing, consider improving your brain power with some common sense remedies offered by the Mayo Clinic:

Accept help. Take a break when it’s offered. Make an ongoing list of things that friends and family or a healthcare professional could help you with – anything from running errands, buying groceries, cooking meals, light housekeeping or simply spending time with the person you are caring for, so you can have a respite.

Take care of yourself. Chances are you are doing a fantastic job caring for your aging loved one, so don’t allow feelings of guilt to paralyze you. Don’t go for perfection. Just do your best and take care of yourself, too.

Perform a reality check. Caregivers often do too much and run themselves ragged with almost superhuman efforts. Set ample time aside to get yourself organized and go after small realistic goals. This is also a great time to learn to say “no.”

Research community resources. Once you have completed a list of your needs, search for local resources that may be available to help. You might even find a class relevant to your situation or perhaps, there may be a local support group that will help you feel like you’re not alone. Sometimes services like transportation, meal prep or delivery, and housekeeping are the answer.

Self-care. Don’t lose view of your own personal health goals. Are you getting enough sleep? Don’t leave out exercise. Eat healthy and drink enough fresh water. Don’t neglect visits to your own doctor.

Respite Care May Help

Often, giving yourself (and your brain) a break from the daily grind is the best thing you can do for yourself, so consider respite care. Respite care is defined as the temporary care of a dependent person, so that their regular caregiver has some time to recuperate and recover. Sometimes this involves in-home respite, when a professional will assist with your loved one, so you can take time to relax for a bit. Sometimes an aide provides short-term assistance while a caregiver takes a nice mini-vacation or simply spends the day taking time for walking or bicycling outdoors. Enjoying social time by visiting with friends may be just what is needed for feeling refreshed and recharged.

A family caregiver has an important and challenging task. If you are a caregiver, remember to take care of yourself and keep stress managed as much as possible. If you feel like you’re experiencing symptoms of burnout, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The best way to care for someone you love is often to look after yourself first.

Secrets for Long Lives and Relationships of Seniors in Carmel, IN

 “We never outlive our need or capacity to be useful.”

—Richard Watts

Have you wondered how important love and connection are when it comes to your life vitality? Imagine your physician giving you a prescription for good health and the script stated: “Keep yourself immersed in a community of people you love. Never stop making new friendships, yet continue to maintain old friendships, and remember to find time for family and others you love.”

Isn’t it good news that research proves it could be that simple and straightforward? Family and close friends, and human connectivity is correlated with longevity. It’s our relationships that are important for a meaningful life. Aging people who commit to staying active with others and make new friends feel valued. A retired minister, Richard Watts, was once quoted, “We never outlive our need or capacity to be useful,” and his words are true. We now understand that loving relationships are essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. Research proves that happiness and longer lives come from loving others and being loved. We humans are social creatures who benefit from interactions with people of various ages.

 

Loneliness Isn’t Good for Your Health

Healthy lifestyle changes are good for your health, but feelings of loneliness can reduce people to the depths of depression and mental illness. We need social interaction and our bodies can deteriorate from chronic inflammation without it. Inflammation can make us feel sick, which provides additional reasons to withdraw from social circumstances. In other words, loneliness compromises health by making us sick, which creates extended isolation from our friends and community.

 

Loving relationships can build our immunity, and help us to have less colds, flu or chronic illness. High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are reduced by staying connected to others, too. Apparently, our personal connections are the antidote to many illnesses. Our bodies reap benefits from hormones whether we are the loving caregiver or recipient of the loving care. In either case, a loving relationship can counteract stress and inflammation from loneliness.

 

Social Activity and Wellbeing

We are better off surrounded by others, as we are more likely to take better care of ourselves, and especially when we have things on the calendar that we are looking forward to. If our friends are active, our activity increases, too. Healthy behaviors lead to healthy habits when there’s a connection with an active group. Knowing our life purpose with a sense of future brings a positive and bright outlook, which also brings protection to our brain and body.

 

The Brain and Social Interaction

Close relationships are simply good for us. Research affirms the benefits of social interaction and how it influences brain health. Conversing with others keeps us thinking sharply since we use more brain power interacting with others. It can challenge us to remember past details and understand new things.