Caregiving for a person with Parkinson’s can be a rewarding experience. It can also be extremely stressful and lead to caregiver burnout. When you’ve reached a state of complete exhaustion, your energy and attitude can take a long time to recover.
Burnout is very real. It is officially recognized by the World Health Organization, and is defined as a debilitating psychological condition brought on by unrelieved stress. Researchers estimate up to 70 percent of caregivers are “significantly stressed.” As many as half of them may be clinically depressed. Women are particularly at risk for health issues stemming from caregiver stress, which includes depression or anxiety.
Caregiver burnout happens when a caregiver tries to take on more than she can handle alone. If you feel guilty when you try to take care of yourself, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of letting your own needs go unattended. Caring for someone with Parkinson’s can be overwhelming. Over time, the pressures of managing everything from physical care to financial matters and family relationships can wear you out to the point of physical and emotional breakdown.
When you’re burned out, the person you care for will also suffer. Depression, anxiety and persistent fatigue interrupts your ability to handle even basic daily activities. When a caregiver’s health declines, the person with Parkinson’s disease often also experiences setbacks.
There are things you can do to alleviate your stress and avoid or recover from caregiver burnout. First and foremost is seeking help. That may mean respite care, or it may mean enlisting the aid of other friends and relatives.
It’s important to build a strong support system, both for yourself and your loved one. This may include joining a formal support group for caregivers, or people whose loved ones have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. They may be able to point you towards resources that can help make things easier.
Setting realistic expectations is also helpful, for the person with Parkinson’s and yourself. While you are absolutely having a positive impact on their quality of life, they may not always be able to show their appreciation. Be kind to yourself, and pay attention to your own needs. You can’t provide the best care for your loved one if you’re struggling to take care of yourself.