The range of emotions when caring for a loved one with a terminal illness knows no bounds. It was over 20 years ago now and yet at times it can still feel like it was yesterday. My siblings and I took care of our mom for six months before she passed.
By the end of those six months I had lost a significant amount of weight and my nervous system had taken a beating. It’s called caregiver burnout. The technical description according to the Cleveland Clinic is a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion. I had it after only six months and with the support of my siblings. Many of the caregivers we see at Seniors Come Share Society are the sole caregiver and have been in that role for years.
Now, add a worldwide pandemic and enforced isolation into the mix. Caregivers who once were able to take their loved ones to programs in the community or had health care workers come in to provide services were now left to manage 24/7 on their own.
Non-essential services were cut. The risk of caregiver burnout has been exacerbated by the pandemic. I can say that because since COVID-19, the number of calls we receive from caregivers in distress and needing support has tripled.
According to the Family Caregivers of BC, over 1 million people provide unpaid care for adult family members and friends in British Columbia. Family caregivers are a vital part of the health care team. Supporting caregivers is crucial not only for the caregiver, but also for the health care system and the community at large. Caregiver burnout on a mass scale would have a huge impact on the health care system. Caregivers and their loved ones could both end up in hospital.
For caregivers, self-care is often a luxury they feel they can’t afford and, in some cases,they feel guilty spending time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved one. Fortunately, there are organizations and programs in place to support our caregivers – even during COVID. The Family Caregivers of BC (www.familycaregiversbc.ca) has some wonderful support systems in place, Seniors Come Share Society
(www.comeshare.ca) has a Caregiver & Family Services program, and Peace Arch Hospice Society
(www.peacearchhospice.org) offers free grief counselling. You can also find a list of other community services on the Semiahmoo Seniors Planning Table website listed below.
The symptoms of caregiver burnout are similar to the symptoms of stress and depression and include:
• withdrawal from family and friends;
• changes in appetite;
• weight loss or gain;
• changes in sleep patterns;
• getting sick more often;
• feeling hopeless and/or helpless;
• wanting to hurt yourself or your loved one.
Knowing and recognizing the signs of stress in yourself or someone you care about is the first step toward taking action. If these symptoms occur on a regular basis, call your doctor.
– Written by Kathleen Butler, Director of Community Engagement, Seniors Come Share Society (Come Share is a member of the Semiahmoo Seniors Planning Table)