By Betty Berry, Tuesday, August 16, 2011  Q: I am a fairly new caregiver and have heard a lot about caregiver burnout and hope to avoid it, if possible. Is there anything in particular I should do or know that would help me do a good job yet not be overwhelmed by the responsibility I have taken on?

A: Caregiver burnout is a real problem that doesn’t occur overnight but creeps up on the caregiver before he or she is aware that it has been building. I congratulate you on your awareness and on seeking assistance before the problem presents itself.

To start with, there are two goals of equal importance that all caregivers should adopt. The first, which almost all caregivers do automatically, is to provide the best possible care for their loved ones. The second, which many caregivers never consider, is to give the best possible care to themselves.

Both goals require commitment, patience, understanding, compassion and respect to both the person being cared for and to the person giving the care.

Caregiving is an all-encompassing responsibility too large for one person. The caregiver must learn to ask for help rather than feeling the job must be done alone.

There are many false reasons why people think they can’t ask for help. Husbands sometimes feel that as men, they must be strong and independent, while wives will say it was part of their wedding vows to provide care. Younger women often feel they are superwomen and can do it all. Daughters sometimes think brothers shouldn’t be asked to perform such duties, and those living closest to the person in need of care feel asking those living at a distance would be an inconvenience.

Although this will sound selfish, the caregiver must put himself or herself first. Failing to do this will likely result in having two patients to worry about instead of one.

As a caregiver, you still have a life of your own. Don’t withdraw from people and activities you have enjoyed in the past. Take care of yourself physically and make sure you have private time and space on a regular basis.

Consider joining a support group. These groups are a good source for tips on how to handle specific problems, information on resources and plain, old emotional support. Just knowing there are others facing similar experiences can be a comfort.

Plan ahead for taking time off by knowing what resources are available. This could be a helper in the home, the services of adult day-care centers or respite care.

Respite care involves placing your loved one in someone else’s care so you can refresh yourself emotionally and physically. Respite care could be for several hours or several weeks. It is important to incorporate this type of care regularly rather than waiting until burnout is evident.

Stress, as we all know, is part of everyday living, but it certainly increases in the life of a caregiver. Learn how to work with your stressful situations so your stress doesn’t develop into distress.

Learn what stress-management techniques work for you. Pause frequently throughout the day. Take a few minutes to relax. Consider getting someone to help with household chores, and talk with someone who can listen and provide useful and productive feedback. Make sure you get enough rest and sleep to start each day feeling refreshed.

Above all, keep your sense of humor. There are humorous moments in all situations — use these to laugh. It has been said that a good laugh is the best medicine available.

Betty Berry is a senior advocate for Senior Concerns. The advocates are at the Goebel Senior Adult Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362; phone 495-6250; or email (please include your telephone number). You are invited to submit questions on senior issues.

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