As Malaysia faces an ageing population, there will be an increasing number of seniors who will need care support.
Caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, but it’s not easy. Besides supporting your loved one in activities of daily living round-the-clock, a family caregiver also has to ensure the emotional wellbeing of their loved one, arrange for transportation to and fro medical appointments as well as take care of the financials involved.
Caregiving is a long and demanding journey. In fact, based on a study on Malaysian caregivers, almost one fifth (21.7%) of Malaysian caregivers experienced a high level of burden, especially time-dependent burden followed by physical and emotional burden. The stress of caregiving can accumulate over time, and if left unchecked, the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion can lead to burnout.
What causes caregiver burnout?
Family caregivers often put the needs and interests of their loved one ahead of themselves, neglecting their own wellbeing in the process.
Having unrealistic expectations is one reason that may contribute to the stress that caregivers face. Sometimes, caregivers may expect their loved one’s condition or mood to improve from their involvement in the care process. However, this may not be possible for individuals with progressive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Caregiver stress may also arise from external factors, such as a lack of support or pressure and expectations from family members. Sole caregivers may not have sufficient support for them to take breaks from caregiving. Other family members may also have unrealistic demands and expectations of the primary caregivers which add on to their stress.
Many caregivers also have to juggle multiple commitments and responsibilities on top of caregiving, such as work and caring for their children.
What are the signs of caregiver burnout?
Oftentimes, caregivers are so focused on the wellbeing of their loved ones that they don’t notice that it’s taking a toll on their own health. Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate that you are experiencing caregiver stress or burnout.
- Increased anxiety, depression, irritability and impatience
- Lack of energy or constantly feeling exhausted, even after sleeping or taking a break
- Neglecting your responsibilities and needs
- Falling sick more often than before
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite and/or weight
- Feeling overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless
- Withdrawal from friends, family and other loved ones
- Feel like your life revolves around caregiving, but it gives you little satisfaction
- Constantly worrying and find it hard to relax even when help is available
- Feelings of wanting to hurt yourself or the person for whom you are caring
How do you prevent caregiver burnout?
Besides taking a toll on our health, caregiver burnout also affects the quality of care that our loved one receives. Here are some tips that can help us prevent burnout or recover from one, be motivated to deliver care and make caregiving a fulfilling experience again.
Caregivers have a never-ending to-do list that’s impossible to complete. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you try to complete everything at one go. Instead, try to break down your tasks into smaller, actionable steps, prioritise them according to urgency and need, and establish a daily routine.
Set realistic expectations
We often put a lot of pressure on ourselves as a caregiver to try to give our loved one the best care possible. However, it’s important to keep in mind that no one is a perfect caregiver. Remind yourself that you’re always doing the best you can and making the best decision possible at that point in time, and that is enough.
Sometimes, we expect to see visible changes in our loved one’s condition, feeling disheartened when it doesn’t improve. However, in some cases, there’s only a slim chance of improvement, especially if your loved one has a progressive condition such as Alzheimer’s. Managing your expectations can help to reduce the emotional toll of caregiving.
Embrace your role as a caregiver
We can’t change our circumstances, but we can change our outlook.
Perhaps becoming a caregiver has allowed you to set a good example for your children or improved your relationship with your loved one. Embrace your role as a caregiver and focus your energy on the positive and meaningful aspects of caregiving to keep you going. Share this journey with other family members so that your loved one’s can live a more fulfilling life together with their closest and most trusted — family.
Get the appreciation you need
Feeling appreciated can motivate us in difficult times. However, our loved ones may not always be able to feel or show their appreciation due to their condition. It might help to imagine how they would respond if they were well and remind yourself that they would show their appreciation if they could. Turning to family and friends for support and validation may help as well.
Give yourself a pat on the back
Don’t downplay the time and effort you put into caregiving. Give yourself a pat on the back and find ways to acknowledge and reward yourself. You could even come up with a list of how you’ve made a difference and refer to it every time you feel disheartened.
Join a caregiver support group
Being surrounded by people in a similar situation can be comforting. Besides providing validation and emotional support to one another, these individuals can share concrete and actionable strategies to cope with the challenges of caregiving.
Take a break
For caregivers, breaks are not a luxury, but a necessity. Pamper yourself – it could be treating yourself to a massage and spa or even something simple like taking a long relaxing bath. Make time to meet up with friends and do the things you enjoy. Don’t feel guilty for taking time off for yourself. Taking a break to recharge can help you become a better caregiver. After all, your life should not solely revolve around caregiving, you deserve to enjoy yourself too!
It’s important to take care of yourself before taking care of others. As a first step, make sure you have sufficient sleep. Sleep is important in improving our mood, energy, productivity, and ability to handle stress. Eating well can also boost our energy levels and keep us in the pink of health.
While it can be a dread to exercise when you’re already stressed and tired. However, it can be a great mood booster and help you stay healthy. Regular exercise can help us feel more energetic as well. Try to aim for 30 minutes a day, breaking it up into shorter sessions if it’s easier.
Going for regular health check-up is another aspect of self-care. While you are busy bringing your loved one to and fro medical appointments, make sure you make time for your own too.
Make time for relaxation or meditation into your daily routine to help relieve stress and boost your joy and wellbeing. Practice deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga or mindfulness meditation. Even a few minutes a day can help you feel more composed when things get overwhelming.
Reach out for help
Shouldering the entire scope of caregiving responsibilities by yourself is bound to lead to burnout. We all need a little help sometimes. Don’t be afraid to reach out for and accept help, be it from family and friends, volunteers or professional care providers.
Respite Care Options in Malaysia
In Malaysia, there are several respite care options available. These services can help relieve you of your caregiving responsibilities in the short-term so that you can take time off for yourself.
Day Care Centres
Particularly useful for working caregivers, day care centres can support your loved one with activities of daily living and engage them in exercises and mind-stimulating games in the day, from a few hours to a full day.
If your loved one needs support with nursing care as well, getting respite care at a nursing home may be a more viable option. Respite care at nursing homes will require your loved one to stay for a minimum of seven days per stay and up to 30 days a year. This option may be suitable for those with helpers on home leave or for family caregivers who need an extended break.
Having a loved one who experiences behavioural and sleep issues can prevent caregivers from getting a good night’s sleep. For example, a person with dementia may confuse day and night in a symptom known as sundowning. In these cases, 24/7 supervision may be required and the caregiver can employ the help of a professional caregiver to take over caregiving responsibilities at night.
For caregivers who prefer for their loved ones to remain in the comfort and familiarity of home, home care options are available. Qualified home nurses and caregivers can support your loved one with activities of daily living and nursing procedures so that you can have peace of mind while taking a break from caregiving.
When the going gets tough, it can help to remember that you’re not alone. Help is always available. Don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you need it.
- Ghazali, Suriawati & Khatijah, L.A. & Abd Aziz, Aniza & Mohd Amin, Rahmah & Jusoh, Ayu & Mansor, Mardiana & Wan Nor Aliza, Wan Nor Aliza & mohd shafie, Zainab. (2015). Burden of caregivers of the elderly with chronic illnesses and their associated factors in an urban setting in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Public Health Medicine. 15. 1-9.