Ethnic Media Coverage

Caregiver Fatigue: Dealing With It Starts With Recognizing You Have It

Photo: Family Caregiver Alliance website.

Former First Lady Roslyn Carter, founder of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving, says there are four kinds of people in the world: Those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”

There should be a fifth: Those who don’t realize they have begun the caregiver journey -- and their ranks are growing daily.

“They are helping mom balance her checkbook, phoning dad every morning to make sure he takes his cholesterol-lowering, diabetes and arthritis medications, picking up groceries for a disabled neighbor -- all sorts of things. They don’t self-identify as caregivers because they are ‘just’ being a good daughter or son or neighbor,” said, Amy Goyer, AARP’s caregiving expert and author of the recently published Juggling Work & Caregiving, which you can download as a free AARP book.

Recognizing Symptoms of Fatigue

According to Goyer, who cares for her 90-year-old father, caregiver fatigue “encompasses a surprising range of feelings.” She added, “If you don’t recognize what’s happening and why, you’ll just end up feeling guilty about your feelings. And guilt is a really useless feeling.”

“Early on, symptoms of emotional fatigue tend to come and go, and they tend to overlap, too, so people need to identify them – right off the bat – so they can take care of their emotional health and other needs,” said Jo McCord, a senior caregiver consultant at San Francisco-based Family Caregiver Alliance

If you have just begun the caregiver journey and are experiencing such symptoms as continually feeling on edge or frequent bouts with “the blues (see sidebar, “9 Fatigue Symptoms Of Caregiving

9 Fatigue Symptoms
Of Caregiving Stress

The initially symptoms of fatigue from caregiver stress are insidious, but important for people to recognize so they take action to manage their own energy, health and spirits. The signs usually include:

Waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop nervousness or tension

• Situational bouts of sadness, “the blues” or tearing-up

• Forgetfulness, inability to concentrate and/or mental sluggishness

• Intermittent feelings of frustration, anger or guilt due to frequent interruptions and not being able to get things done

• Sporadic, often situational, feelings of resentment, impatience or irritability at colleagues, family members or the person you are “just” helping

• Poor or interrupted sleep

• A looming feeling of isolation

• A growing realization of the sacrifices -- time, money, opportunities, etc. - you are experiencing

An increase in aches, pains and, not surprisingly, blood pressure—a problem more prevalent among women than men, according to recent research.

--Eileen Beal

Stress”) here are some strategies to help you manage the emotional stressors that can come early in the caregiver journey.

Put a name on what you are doing. Caregiving isn’t only helping out, it’s taking on responsibility for the wellbeing of another person. “The quicker a person self-identifies as a caregiver, the quicker they’ll be able to recognize and deal with the emotional roller-coaster [symptoms] that can come as caregiver responsibilities increase,” McCord said.

Listen to your emotions. The feelings of stress and weariness are normal responses to caregiving, said Jody Gastfriend, vice president of Senior Care Services at, an online resource connecting families and caregivers.

The realization, she said, “will go a long way toward helping you take action for your own well-being and not react to them in a negative way,”

Embrace change. “Early on, people need to understand that the keys to being a successful caregiver are flexibility and adaptability on the journey,” Goyer emphasized.

Let go. Most causes of emotional fatigue are out of the caregiver’s control. Gastfriend recommended, “Early on, caregivers need to recognize their limitations and give themselves permission to let go of or delegate some of the responsibilities they have taken on.” She added, “When they do that, they can get the replenishment they need to continue replenishing others.”

Get help. A recent study in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows that, even at the earliest stages of caregiving, caregivers experience increased feelings of well-being when they seek help.

But, cautions McCord, every caregiver’s situation is different so “the options that are going to help them have to be individualized.”

Home and Community Services

To find individualized options, tap into the wide array of home-based services and community programs and supports that are widely available. Some are paid for on an hourly or daily basis, some are provided for a small or sliding fee, and some are free.

For caregivers who are employed, perhaps the fastest way to find assistance you will use and can afford is to check with your company’s HR department. “More and more companies have recognized that their employees are also caregivers and use consultants to help them deal with caregiver issues,” said Gastfriend.

Caregivers can also find a consultant on their own by contacting local care managers, social service agencies or national organizations, such as the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers or

The expertise and knowledge of community resources these professionals can provide can help caregivers prioritize their needs and locate the services, agencies and organizations that can aid them.

“This can be an expensive option, but they’ll be doing a lot of the heavy lifting for you--and often you only need a couple of consulting sessions to get things moving in the right direction,” McCord advised.

To find information on your own, start with your local area agency on aging’s Family Caregiver Support Program, then widen your search net to include county or municipal offices on aging or disability, disease specific organizations (many publish excellent caregiver resource lists and guides), religiously-affiliated service groups and reputable caregiver websites or help-lines.

You can find many such resources by contacting the ElderCare Locator; call toll free: 800-677-1116. (Also, see the ElderCare Locator/Community-Based Services.) Another important source for the public is the Family Caregiver Alliance; toll-free at 800-445-8106.

Probably the most overlooked options for help are support groups. Goyer noted, “Connecting with others who get what you experiencing gives you a safe place to talk about your feelings and hear about the options -- the practical things, the strategies and tips -- you can use to cope with your emotional stress. And they can help you deal with isolation, too.”

But, stressed McCord, “You won’t even think about [joining a support group] unless you’ve identify as a caregiver.”

Additional Resources Include:

AARP’s Caregiver Resource Center

Alzheimer’s Association

National Alliance for Caregiving

National Family Caregivers Association/Caregiver Toolbox

Eileen Beal, a Cleveland-based journalist on issues in aging, wrote this article for Today’s Caregiver, with support from the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging program, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.

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