Elderly hands and young hands holding each other
Caregiver Support

Caring for the Caregiver

Tips for preventing, recognizing & dealing with caregiver burnout

Caring for an elderly parent can be rewarding. It can also be incredibly stressful. Left unchecked, that stress can lead to burnout — a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Read on to learn more about caregiver burnout, and about support and resources that can help.

Caregiving in Canada

If you and your siblings are taking care of an aging parent, you’re in good company: Statistics Canada reports that, in 2018, one in four Canadians aged 15+ provided (unpaid) care for a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, physical or mental disability, or problems related to aging. 

  • Caring for elderly parents is the most common form of caregiving reported in Canada: of those 7.8 million caregivers, almost half (47%) reported caring primarily for their parents or parents-in-law. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of adult children (61%) aged 45 to 64 reported caring for an elderly parent or parent-in-law.
  • 54% of those caregivers are women.
  • One-fifth of carers spent more than 20 hours a week taking care of a loved one, performing activities like driving, cleaning, preparing meals, doing outdoor chores, and scheduling and coordinating appointments.

That’s a lot of people, doing a lot of wonderful things for their elders. 

And that’s also a lot of people, juggling a lot of tasks, facing a lot of challenges, and shouldering a lot of physical and emotional responsibilities. All these challenges, left unchecked, can leave caregivers stressed and at risk of burnout.

What is caregiver burnout?

A string being pulled and nearly breaking

Caring for an elderly parent can be rewarding. And it can also be very stressful, especially when the care extends over a period of many months or years, and when your mom or dad continues to decline even with your best efforts, or when caregiver needs are unmet — and about a third of Canadian caregivers report unmet needs

Over time, that stress can take its toll: on your health, on your finances, on your relationships, and on your mental state. Without support, that stress can turn into burnout: that state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

Symptoms of caregiver burnout

Symptoms of caregiver burnout look a lot like the symptoms of stress and depression. Here are some things to look for, in yourself or in a sibling or loved one caring for an elderly parent: 

  • You’re withdrawing from friends and family, or from activities you used to enjoy.
  • Your appetite and your sleep patterns have changed: you’re eating or sleeping too much or not enough. You’re gaining or losing weight.
  • You don’t have any energy. You feel exhausted all the time, even after sleeping or taking a break.
  • Your health is suffering: you’re catching colds more often. You have frequent headaches, stomach pains, joint or muscle pain, or other physical problems. Your own health conditions are flaring up.
  • You’re constantly beset by negative emotions: anger, irritability, hopelessness, helplessness, sadness, depression. 
  • You find yourself losing your temper or your patience with the person you’re caring for, or other people.
  • You’re using alcohol, sleep medications, and prescription and non-prescription drugs to cope.
  • You want to hurt yourself or the person you’re caring for.

What can I do? Resources for caregiver burnout

A happy woman holding a cup of coffee looking out the window

Caregiver burnout is real. It’s common. And, left untreated, it can take a real toll on you, your family, and the person that you care for. 

You may be worried that you or someone you love is burning out. Or maybe you know that you or a loved one are well into burnout territory. What can you do?

Be realistic

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you should be able to handle all the challenges that come with caring for an elderly relative. 

  • Reality-check your limits: How much time, energy, and money do you really have? It can help to talk with your spouse or partner, your siblings, and friends you trust to get their perspectives on the situation.
  • Be realistic about your expectations: If your parent has a progressive disease like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, or late-stage cancer, even the best care in the world likely can’t reverse the situation.
  • Lose the perfectionism: You can’t care for anybody perfectly. And you may have to accept imperfect help from your family, friends and community. Practice letting go of ideal standards and set “good enough goals” to get you through the day.

Take care of yourself

Yes, yes, we’ve all heard about the importance of “self-care.” But don’t dismiss self-care as frivolous: as lovely as a mani-pedi might be, nice fingernails aren’t going to solve your burnout. Self-care means taking the time and energy to tend to your own mental and physical health. That means things like:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Taking your medications regularly
  • Eating healthy food, and enough of it
  • Exercising — it really does help relieve stress and enhance your mood
  • Visiting your doctor or nurse practitioner to check out and treat any troubling symptoms
  • Joining a support group
  • Talking to a counsellor or therapist about your situation. A mental health professional can help you understand and deal with feelings of guilt, grief, anger and stress, and work with you to create strategies to deal with difficult feelings and situations.

If you can’t imagine how to find the time or the energy to take care of yourself, that’s a sign that you need help.

Ask for — and accept — help

Help can come from a variety of sources, including family and friends, your faith community if you have one, local organizations like Alzheimer’s societies, government resources, support groups, mental health professionals, and your healthcare practitioners.

  • Let your family and friends know exactly what they can do to ease your caregiving burden. Maybe a neighbour can cut the grass or shovel the driveway. A group of friends could provide meals a couple of times a week. A friend or relative can stay with your parent for a couple of hours while you take a break. 
  • Delegate. You don’t have to do everything alone. Siblings and other people in your parent’s circle of care can use the Care Easy app to “divide and conquer”: divvying up driving duties, grocery shopping, making appointments or monitoring medications.
  • See what’s available in your community. Research — or ask somebody to help you research — community resources for caregivers like respite care, adult daycare services, home health care or nursing aides, Meals on Wheels, support groups and other services that you and your family can use to help ease the stress.
  • Check out government benefits. For example, did you know that the Canadian government offers employment insurance (EI) benefits to caregivers? If you need to take time away from your job to care for an elderly parent, the caregiver benefit offers financial assistance of up to 55% of earnings, up to a maximum of $595 a week for 15 weeks to care for an adult (and for up to 26 weeks to care for a person of any age at the end of life). You can visit Canada.ca for more information and to see if you’re eligible for these benefits.

Let your CareEasy Circle of Care help you

With the CareEasy app, you can easily share and track errands and expenses that you need help with. When you need support with a task or expense, simply create and assign it to someone within your circle and they will be notified of your request. Your entire circle will be able to see what tasks and expenses still need to be completed or have already been completed, making caregiving as transparent as possible. Simply download the CareEasy app below to begin!

Download the CareEasy app for FREE