Caregiver Syndrome: How to Care for the Caring

If being able to care for others is important to you, you need to also know how to care for yourself. Caregiver syndrome can happen is you start neglecting yourself and your needs.
Caregiver Syndrome: How to Care for the Caring

Last update: 27 March, 2019

Perhaps at some point in your life, you’ve had someone in your care: an elderly parent, a sick sibling, or even a disabled child who needs daily attention. “Caregiver syndrome” is a common reality that can affect anyone who is responsible for the needs, health, and well being of another person.

Gradually, the task of caring for another person can cause a physical as well as emotional overload that you can’t overlook.

It can happen very slowly, but as your day to day energies are focused on a dependent person, you end up neglecting yourself. You become completely wrapped up in the role of caregiver, and forget how to “be yourself.”

Where’s the middle ground? How should you deal with this kind of situation that’s so common in society today?

Women Usually Carry the Weight of Caregiving

Woman cooking in kitchen caregiver syndrome falls on women
The statistics provide a very stark reality. The responsibility of caring for a dependent person almost always falls on the shoulders of women.

This is a job that’s carried out with love and dedication, with emotional and physical bonds. It’s not easy or even fathomable for some to abandon your family member or a person who needs your help in order to get through the day.

However, when women take on the role of caregiver, there are a few important things to remember:

  • Nearly 60% of people who have a dependent family member have to set aside their career for a time.
  • Being a caregiver means keeping track of that person 24 hours a day.
  • These tasks are performed with love and dedication, so it’s common to feel anxious and worried that the person who depends on you might have an urgent need, or is in danger. The reality is that you need breaks, and another family member should assist you in this task.
  • Most people enter the role as caregiver unprepared. That means you’ll experience a physical overload, not knowing how to properly move the person you’re caring for, or making mistakes regarding their diet, hygiene, medication, and so on.
  • Caregivers are usually between the ages of 50 and 60, people who already have their own medical conditions or physical limitations.
  • Often the caregiver has other family members or dependents as well, including children and grandchildren.
  • Caregivers wind up losing their time to themselves to devote to entertainment or hobbies. Their lives are filled with physical and emotional pressure that can create a vicious cycle, causing serious damage.

The Warning Signs of “Caregiver Syndrome”

Woman exhausted from caretaking caregiver syndrome
Typically the caregiver is unaware of the emotional and physical damage that they’re suffering from.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a patient in good health and quality of life while their caregiver has lost theirs, suffering from chronic fatigue, back problems, stress or anxiety attacks, and most commonly, depression.

Now for the warning signs:

  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Problems sleeping
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Changes in weight
  • Dependence on painkillers
  • Social isolation
  • Cognitive difficulties like memory loss or diminished attention span

Tips to Prevent “Caregiver Syndrome”

Old couple holding hands on table caretaker and patient

  • Set a time each day where you have a few hours to yourself.
  • Learn to delegate other responsibilities – this is critical. Caring for a dependent person shouldn’t fall exclusively on one person, so establish agreements with your family members or a social service. That doesn’t mean that “you can’t be bothered” with your patient. On the contrary. The more help you have, the more you’ll be able to help them. Remember that when you are well, you can offer them your best, but if you’re depressed or run down, you won’t be able to put forth your best effort.
  • Learn more about the condition or problem that your patient is suffering. Rely on professionals to advise you and help you properly perform your duties.
  • Always maintain your social life, and spend time with friends whenever you can. Take care of your own emotions and happiness.
  • Make some time to exercise, because it’s extremely important. Take a walk every day, go home and stretch, and especially focus on caring for your back.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you’re overburdened. You shouldn’t only be going to the doctor for the person you’re caring for. You are also important, and if your health fails it will affect everything. Get help when you’re overloaded – it’s essential.
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  • Kasuya, R. T., Polgar-Bailey, M. P., & MPH Robbyn Takeuchi, M. S. W. (2000). Caregiver burden and burnout a guide for primary care physicians. Postgraduate Medicine108(7), 119.