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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante  

Caregiver stress and burnout

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

“How am I going to manage all of this?” Mary wondered when she awoke in the morning. She works full-time in a busy office during the day, has a busy family of six, and more recently, she is taking on the needs of her aging parents. They live in their apartment nearby but call her often throughout the day. In addition to keeping track of the needs of her four children and spouse, she is now in charge of scheduling her parents’ appointments and driving them there. She also delivers groceries to them every week and at least twice a week, she will bring them a hot meal. Now, Mary is seriously considering taking over their finances because they are too trusting of sales people lately. Mary has also noticed that her father is getting more and more forgetful of details.

As our population ages, the number of elderly adults is growing. Hence, there is an increased demand on family members to care for their aging loved ones, as well as on the Canadian health care system. The “sandwich generation” refers to those individuals who are caught between the conflicting demands of raising children and also caring for aging seniors. One must be aware that caregiver burnout might happen, when you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted due to caring for a senior in your life and start to feel negatively about your situation.

How do I know if I am experiencing caregiver stress or burnout?

You may have:

  • Feelings of irritability, anger, hopelessness, frustration and despair
  • An urge to withdraw from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Changes in weight or sleeping patterns

How can I talk to my aging loved one about what is happening?

  • Speak calmly to them and choose a quiet, private place to talk
  • Give the person time to respond and discuss their feelings with you
  • Present two or three options rather than asking an open-ended question e.g., “We can go to the doctor on a Thursday or a Friday” rather than “When do you want to make a doctor’s appointment?”
  • Use a gentle, reassuring touch when communicating with them
  • Speak with a “team mentality” to remind them that they are not alone. Using “we” phrases e.g., “we will figure this out,” will also decrease any feelings of powerlessness that they might have

If I am the senior that needs help from my family, what can I do?

  • Know that aging is a natural process, and that things for you will change
  • It is normal to feel guilty and frustrated with your situation. Talk about it with your family and friends, or get professional help from a doctor or counsellor
  • Patience is a two-way street. You will need to be patient with others, just like they need to exercise patience with you
  • Laugh whenever you can

According to Age Friendly Manitoba, A Guide for the Caregiver, there are many rewards and joys of caregiving such as:

  • Having a new relationship with the person receiving care
  • Giving back to someone who cared for you
  • Increasing compassion and personal growth
  • Creating new memories with your loved one

Mary found that her feelings of frustration and irritability improved when she looked at the positives in her situation. She learned that she couldn’t do it all, and it was actually a sign of strength and humility to ask for help from other family members, including her siblings, husband and children. Her sister took over the grocery shopping, her older kids cooked simple meals, her husband drove them to appointments and Mary continued to manage their medical needs and finances.

Encouraging her parents’ independence as much as possible was also important, so she installed a bath seat and grab bars in their bathroom, moved items to lower shelves in the kitchen and their closet, and hung a large monthly calendar on their fridge. She also arranged for them to have a medical alert system installed in their home for everyone’s peace of mind. Mary also consulted with their doctors and pharmacist to get more knowledge about their health.

Mary also decided to access a support group so she could connect with others in similar situations. She decided not to take it personally when her parents expressed anger and frustration. And above all, she made self-care and being kind to herself a priority. She made sure to take her breaks at work, pray regularly, go for a daily walk, and see her friends at least once every two weeks.

Caregiving can be an extremely challenging, yet rewarding journey. Keep in mind that you can take steps to make the experience as positive as possible.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is the founder of Nexus Counselling and a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She is a proud member of the Manitoba Filipino Business Council and a provider for the Blue Cross Employee Assistance Program. Cheryl has experience helping clients with issues such as grief, depression, relationship difficulties, parenting, aging and illness. She can be reached at (204) 297-6744 or